“Hello, Harry. What are you doing?”
Harry blinked, snapped away from his study trance by the voice, and glanced over his shoulder. Riddle was standing in the doorway of the formal dining room, his face locked in the small, smooth smile that seemed to charm everyone else.
Harry shrugged and said, “Hello, Riddle. Arithmancy.”
He made sure his voice was discouraging, but Riddle still paced across the blue carpet to stand and look over Harry’s shoulder at the parchments Harry had spread out on the sleek ebony table. Harry’s shoulders cramped with the effort of not turning around or standing up. He hated having someone like Riddle at his back.
Which was ridiculous, of course. Riddle was the victim of an unfortunate ritual backfiring when he was sixteen, a ritual backfiring that had left him trapped in a diary for fifty years. Then a Slytherin sixth-year had found the diary and decided to reverse the ritual, but she hadn’t been careful enough to guard her own magic in the process. The ritual had restored Riddle to life, but drained her to death, and left Harry’s sister, the Girl-Who-Lived, Diana Potter, exposed to a giant basilisk.
That Riddle had helped Diana kill the basilisk and won her heart was—not something Harry approved of, but it wasn’t his heart. Or his life.
Riddle put a hand on Harry’s shoulder as he leaned. Harry did shift and move away then, unable to help himself. It was the greasy feeling Riddle carried around him at all times, as if he had been rubbing Essence of Murtlap all over his fingers.
Riddle laughed quietly, but a second later, switched to a tone of disgust. “Heller’s Theorem. Really?”
“Really.” Harry turned the chair so he could see Riddle and pulled the parchments back towards him.
“You’re too old to be taken in by that man’s nonsense.”
“I never said I was good at Arithmancy.”
No, that was for his youngest sister, Violet, going into her sixth year at Hogwarts in a few months, and a genius at numbers for all that she had trouble with the real world and reading the emotions of people around her. Just like Diana was a genius at Defense, for all her powerful and uncontrollable magic, and Mum was a genius at Charms, and Dad was a genius at Transfiguration.
Harry was a genius on a broom, he supposed, but that didn’t count. And the only subject he’d taken an Outstanding NEWT in was Care of Magical Creatures.
Not for much longer, though, not if the Arithmancy worked out the way it was supposed to.
“Why in the world are you wasting your time on Heller’s Theorem?” Riddle drew out the chair across the table from Harry and sat in it.
“Because I want to. Like I said, I’m not good at Arithmancy.”
There was silence for a few minutes, long enough for Harry to get drawn into writing numbers and correspondence notes on the parchment in front of him and suppose that Riddle had left. Then Riddle said, “But even a toddler should know that there’s no point in wasting time on Arithmancy that won’t work.”
Harry shot him a narrow smile. “If you listened to Diana, you would know that I’m sometimes not much smarter than a toddler.”
Diana—didn’t mean it, Harry knew. She was dealing with the triple burden of being the Girl-Who-Lived who had rid the world of the Dark Lord Voldemort forever on Halloween night, 1985; having uncontrollable magic that she had to work incredibly hard to restrain because that defeat had propelled her into adult magical strength long before she was ready; and being seventeen years old. She said things she didn’t mean all the time, and apologized for them.
The thing was, Harry knew that he wasn’t as smart as the rest of his family. He just had to change things, and then he would be.
“Show you what?” Harry murmured, not bothering to look up this time. “What could I possibly show Tom Riddle, Jr., fiancé of the Girl-Who-Lived and one of the most powerful wizards in the world?”
“Show me why Heller’s Theorem works.”
Harry looked up and studied him for a second. Riddle was leaning forwards in that way he had, his eyes focused and intent as a lens being held up to sunlight.
Harry shrugged. He supposed it couldn’t hurt. It wasn’t like Riddle would be able to guess his ultimate plan from seeing a small demonstration.
Even if he did, why would he care? Harry wasn’t of any value to Riddle’s ambitious plans the way Diana and the rest of the Potter family were.
Harry turned one of his parchments over, and showed Riddle the blank side. Then he spent a moment looking down at it, letting the right numbers and associations slide into his mind, concentrating so hard that his vision blurred.
When the balance of associations and numbers in his mind felt right, Harry rapidly wrote down 4 + 11.
The air around them tightened and shook as if they were inside one of those globes with fake snow that Harry had seen a few Muggleborns buy around Christmas. The invisible magic rose and then settled back down.
The stretch of the table between Harry and Riddle turned to a sleek strip of gleaming human skin, a little darker than Harry’s own.
Riddle swore aloud, his eyes wide, his face going so rapidly pale that Harry thought he was going to faint for a second. It was the first time Harry had ever seen him so discomposed, and he had to grin.
Then the strip of human skin snapped back into ebony, and the tight bonds around them parted and faded. Riddle stared at the table as though expecting it to come to life, then glanced at Harry.
“How did you do that?”
“Heller’s Theorem,” Harry said, and considered smiling mysteriously, the way Riddle would undoubtedly do if he’d accomplished something like that, and then leaving the room. But the attention was unusual, and gratifying, enough, that he went on. “Heller said that if someone could link numbers strongly enough with particular associations in their mind, they could cause changes in the world itself. I envisioned the 4 as the table, because a table has four legs. The 11 reads as a human to me, because—”
“It looks like two legs,” Riddle finished. His voice was oddly hollow. Is he upset that he didn’t think of this himself? Harry wondered. But Riddle had got it quickly enough, without Harry even having to explain the significance of the 11. “I—but people have been trying this for decades, since Heller first proposed it, and it never worked.”
Harry shrugged. “I think there are two reasons for that.” He did pause and eye Riddle. before continuing. It wasn’t as though he and his future brother-in-law particularly liked each other, or Riddle had ever paid him this much attention before.
“Do go on. I’m fascinated.”
Riddle’s hollowness sounded like hunger, this time. Harry looked aside, cleared his throat, and went on. “First, most of the people who tested it worked with completed equations, not just individual numbers. Leaving the equation open allows for the temporary effects. If I wanted a permanent effect, I could complete the equation.” But that’s not something I want to do. Yet.
“That does make sense. Arithmancy relies so much on fantastically complicated equations that we forget the power of the numbers by themselves…” Riddle trailed off. “And the second reason?”
“People kept trying to assign permanent significations to the numbers. So, in that mindset, a four can only and ever represent the legs of a table. It doesn’t matter what equation you put it in, it’s always a table. I don’t think like that. I can make four represent a table, or a four-legged animal, or a square, or—”
“Why did I never think of that?” Riddle whispered.
Harry didn’t bother answering. He couldn’t fault Riddle’s intelligence, or skill at Arithmancy; he didn’t have Violet’s instinctive artistry for it, but he could keep up with her in discussions, which was close enough. And Riddle wasn’t exactly hidebound or traditional, despite his stupid obsession with blood purity.
“How did you come to think of it?”
Harry smiled grimly. There was the disdain and contempt he was more familiar with. “I realized that numbers having one permanent significance was silly, when you think about how many different things the same numbers represent in different cultures, or even in ours. Seven is the most powerful magical number, but it’s also the number of days in a week, and that can be as ordinary as you let it. Or not, if you think about using the number seven to shape the time that you live through.”
Riddle let out an abrupt hiss. Harry kept his hands flat on the table and managed not to jump. Riddle was a Parselmouth, like Diana, and it seemed that he was prone to hissing when excited.
“I did not think of that,” Riddle whispered in English, finally. “How could I not have thought of that?”
Harry shrugged a little, and gathered up the parchment that he’d written the incomplete equation on. As he was tapping them together to get them back into a neat pile, Riddle’s hand abruptly caught his wrist.
Harry snapped around, startled. How did Riddle do there? Harry would have sworn that a second ago, he had been on the other side of the table, and he certainly hadn’t heard the git crossing the distance between them. But here he was now, cradling Harry’s wrist as if it was something precious and staring at him with widened eyes.
“I need to know more,” Riddle whispered.
Harry blinked, because that was a very odd reaction to have to wanting to know more about Arithmancy, but sure, he could do that. He tapped his wand against the sheaf of bound parchment that held his notes and duplicated it. He held it out. “Here you are.”
Riddle didn’t take it. “I want to know more,” Riddle repeated, and then tilted his head a little to the side.
Harry might not have realized what he was doing, but he’d gone through seven years at Hogwarts with an arsehole of a professor who tried to read his mind at every opportunity. He surged up, smashing the top of his head into Riddle’s nose and driving him backwards.
The hold on his wrist broke. Harry cast a few Repelling Charms around his hands and shoulders and stared at Riddle, who was now cradling his nose the way he had Harry’s wrist. His gaze remained as demanding as before.
That’s odd. I’ve never seen him not get furious with someone who hurt him or stood up to him.
But Harry laid the idea aside. So what? Riddle wasn’t someone who mattered greatly in his life. Harry had several choices among the equations he could finish to better fit into the family, and either he would become a person who was fine with Riddle as Diana’s spouse, or he would become someone who no longer cared.
“Tom—oh, no, Tom, what happened?”
Harry sighed as Diana came running into the dining room. She was a vision in her betrothal robes, white with golden trim, which lately she had taken to wearing everywhere. She was fair-skinned and red-haired like their mum, and her hazel eyes shone gold or green or blue depending on the light. She was beautiful.
And her magic whirled around her like ribbons flung by Muggle dancers, tangling and catching at everything in sight.
“Harry, what did you do to Tom?”
Harry would have made a crack about how quick she was to blame him, but in this case, she did happen to be right. He opened his mouth to say “Stood up and slammed him in the face with my head,” and take the blame, but Riddle intervened, clasping Diana’s hand and turning her back towards him.
“Nothing, my dear. I was clumsy, and Harry caught me before I could fall backwards.”
Harry stared with his mouth open. Riddle was definitely not the kind of person who took the blame for anything. Ever. Even with Diana, he was always prodding away at her, quietly condescending and asking her to “think” about things. It was one of the many reasons Harry distrusted him.
But Diana evidently couldn’t fathom that “Tom” would lie to her. She stared up at him with shining, melting eyes, and then leaned her head on her chest with a little sigh. “It’s all right, Tom. It’s just the nerves from the wedding making you act like this. Everything will be all right, you’ll see.”
Harry reckoned that was his cue to slip out of the room, given how things were going. He did, but felt a sharp burning sensation between his shoulder blades.
He glanced over, wondering if one of them had decided to curse him after all. But it only took a moment of meeting Riddle’s gaze to make him realize what he was feeling.
Ugh, Harry thought as he walked away. Get obsessed with someone else, you crazy fucker.
“I hate this wedding.”
Harry smiled a little as he glanced over at Violet, who had flung herself down into the grass beside him. Harry had been lying with his hands tucked behind his head for the past half-hour, in the deep grass that surrounded the Potter gardens and was enchanted to keep the forest beyond it from spreading any further.
His sister stared back at him. She was as pale-skinned as Diana, as dark-haired as he was, and had got those grey eyes from their grandmother, probably. She maintained the stare for a moment longer than was comfortable, then rolled on her back and stared up at the clouds, too.
“I can’t say that to anyone else.”
Harry blinked, but it would make Violet uncomfortable herself if he commented, so he just peered up into the sky that was a hot, glorious, rare blue. He was surprised, though. Violet didn’t normally display that much awareness.
Violet apparently had a condition that Muggles called “autism,” according to their mum, or something like it. Mum and Dad hadn’t stopped arguing since Violet was a few years old if autism was something witches could inherit or not.
Harry didn’t have an opinion in that particular conflict. He knew that Violet seemed oblivious half the time, that she didn’t like social occasions, that she was blunt to the point of not having many friends, that she was great with numbers, that she preferred to be by herself much of the time. He tried to let her do as she wanted, and if she wanted to seek out his company, great.
“What does Diana see in that arsehole?”
It was also rare that Violet asked his opinion, so Harry gave it the consideration it deserved. Violet wasn’t about to get upset if he took too long.
“I think it’s that he can help ground her magic,” he answered finally. “We haven’t met anyone else who can do that. And he did save her from the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets.”
“So it’s just hero worship? You can’t marry someone based on hero worship.”
Harry had to laugh. “I think a lot of marriages are based on it, at least if you go by novels.”
Violet made a rude noise to express what she thought of fiction. “I thought Diana was smarter than that. You would be smarter than that.”
Harry sighed to himself, but nodded and didn’t say anything else. As Diana would tell them, she had made her choices and they had to accept them. And Mum and Dad seemed as head over heels around Riddle as Diana was.
Well, he saved their baby girl. Their precious one.
Harry closed his eyes and retreated into himself for a moment, repeating all the old assurances in his head. It helped that he could hear them in Sirius and Remus’s voices, they had said them so often. And, well, Sirius and Remus had largely raised him from the time he was six years old.
Your parents are only trying to protect you. You know they couldn’t have you around Diana’s magic when it’s acting up like that. She could hurt you.
You know they need some time with Violet. She has—some things she needs help on.
That much was true. Violet hadn’t spoken until she was four years old. She might not have, ever, if Mum and Dad hadn’t spent so many hours working with her, Harry knew, and taking her to see Healers. They didn’t need the distraction of a loud, impatient boy with his own accidental magic outbursts running around, not when they also had to take Diana to Healers and try to find a way to calm her magic down enough that she could be around other people and attend Hogwarts.
It was all true. They couldn’t have dealt with Harry when they were dealing with Diana and Violet, and it wasn’t like they had shuffled him off to some orphanage where they never saw him. They had seen him regularly, every week.
Sirius and Remus had loved him, Harry knew that, and they still loved him. It hadn’t been exile.
He was twenty-two bloody years old now. He should be over this.
It still hurt.
Well, Harry thought, staring for a moment at a cloud that looked like half a ritual pentagram, a few more weeks, a few more months, and it won’t hurt anymore.
Harry sat on the balcony in the back of the house and stared down at his mother’s Potions garden. The soft blue light from flickering charms cast on the wards reflected off the little rills running through the garden, and the stone railings of the balcony, and the house’s windows, and probably Harry’s glasses.
Harry wished the lights were warmer. Maybe they would melt some of the chill inside him.
He had tried. Really, he had. He had gone to the pre-wedding dinner with a quiet smile on his face, and greeted the Weasleys and the Longbottoms and the Abbotts and the Macmillans and everyone else invited. He hadn’t drunk more than a single glass of champagne, and minded his manners when he was eating. He had kept to the background and let Diana and Riddle be the stars of the evening, the way they so clearly were.
He knew how these things went.
And he had tried with the gift, a brand-new Defense book that had been published in France the year before but only translated to English this month. Diana’s face had frozen in a grave, polite smile when she’d opened the box.
“Oh.” She said that, only that, and glanced in Harry’s direction.
Harry stared back at her. He wanted to say nothing, to let the moment lie awkwardly there and then fly past.
But he was always losing control of his mouth, and he’d done it again, despite the smarter voice in the back of his head screaming that it wouldn’t do any good. “It’s brand-new. Only translated this month.”
“Harry.” Diana had laid the book down and shoved it aside, only a little, but enough to make it feel as though she’d punched him in the chest. “It’s a Defense book. I already know Defense. There’s nothing published in here that I won’t already know.”
An awkward chuckle ran around the room, the sound of people who didn’t know for sure whether they were supposed to laugh. Then Diana had sighed and added, “And really, getting me a book on Defense? It’s like you’re one of those adoring fans who doesn’t really know me as a person, and has to make a guess at what I’d like.”
That had been the only thing she’d said, and then Riddle had taken up the book and tucked it away somewhere, and Diana went back to opening gifts. Harry had slipped quietly to the back of the room, aiming for the exit.
His mother had caught up with him, the familiar mixture of guilt and defensiveness on her face. “Harry—”
“Don’t. Just don’t.”
Harry had whispered the words, harsh as they were, but his mother had still cast a nervous glance over her shoulder, as if Diana might hear and have her special moment disrupted, before swallowing and turning back to him. “I know that you didn’t take as many OWL’s and NEWT’s as either Diana or Violet, but you ought to have known—”
“Yeah, I’m not a bloody genius, I get it, Mum!”
Mum shushed him quickly and glanced over her shoulder again. Diana was laughing about something Riddle had said and wouldn’t notice anything.
“She’s stressed right now. The wedding—we had to hold a big one, it’s what’s expected of the Girl-Who-Lived, but she didn’t want one. Just give her a few weeks and apologize, and then I’m sure things will be all right.”
Harry turned without answering and pushed his way out of the room, and into the corridor, and then around corners until he had come to the garden. No matter what he tried to say to his mother at that point, he knew it wouldn’t go well.
He leaned his head on the balcony railings and closed his eyes. He never should have agreed to “try” one more time with his family and come to the fucking wedding. He felt tired, worn-out, hollow, the way Sirius had looked on that day all those years ago when they had lowered Albus Dumbledore into the ground, a few years before Diana went to Hogwarts.
Can I go home right now?
But if he did, or if he was working at the Magical Menagerie on the day that his famous sister got married, he would never hear the end of it. Neither would Aleria Madstrom, his boss. He would stick it out.
He was stressed enough, though, that he knew he would make something explode if he went back into the house right now. The only thing he could do that would calm him down was bleed off some of the magic.
Harry extended his hands in front of him and stared at his empty palms. The magic surged up in his veins as he fixed his mind on the number six.
Six, for the number of points of a snowflake. Melting, soft, fluid number, like water surging back and forth, coiled in a stream that flowed around a blank, empty pool in the middle…
Harry breathed out, and light blossomed in his palms, glimmering gently. Six six-pointed golden snowflakes made of light, growing and shrinking, dimming and brightening, danced there, and Harry smiled a little.
The ferocity of his fixation on the number six was keeping them here and driving other thoughts he could have had out of his mind. Harry spun his hands, and the light spun with them, the snowflakes rotating around each other.
Six, Harry thought, and then, Four.
The light changed at once, growing solid and heavy, as Harry fixed his mind on a square’s four rectangular sides. But Harry imprinted the slipperiness of six under the solidity of four, and the panes of four-sided crystal retained their lightness, and their golden glow, hovering soundlessly over his hands. Two of them faded out, since four were easier to control when Harry was thinking the number so strongly.
This was something he could do. He wasn’t a genius at anything. It had taken him forever to learn to cast a powerful spell like the Patronus Charm. He had got an Outstanding in Care of Magical Creatures more because he really liked animals than because he was instinctively good at it. It had even taken him months to work out Heller’s Theorem and how Arithmancy could help him.
But it didn’t matter. As the magic spun around him, consumed and called up by the complexity of what he was doing, he sank more and more towards peace.
Someone made a choking noise behind him.
One, Harry thought, and surged to his feet, spinning around, as the crystal squares winked out. Between him and the person who had intruded on him, an invisible whip fell from an enormous height, cracking into the ground between them and leaving a long lash mark that looked like the figure 1 seen from a certain distance.
The noise was just meant to startle someone and give Harry enough time to compose himself, so he could get out of the situation. But it hadn’t made Riddle—because of course it was bloody Tom Riddle—take even a step back.
Riddle was staring at him with so much desire in his eyes that Harry curled his lip without meaning to. “Does Diana know that you look at men like that?” he snapped.
Riddle gave a short, breathless laugh. “Do you know what you just did?”
“Yeah, nearly hit you with my magic. I’m glad I didn’t. Diana would be upset to have to look at a scar on your cheek for as long as she lives.”
“I am not talking about that.” Riddle was prowling around to the side as if he thought that he could circle in on Harry that way and take him by surprise. This balcony isn’t that big, wanker, Harry thought, and kept turning to face him, hand resting on his wand now. “I’m talking about the way you conjured light and changed it to crystal.”
“You were spying on me that long, Riddle? You creepy—”
“That is not possible.”
“Ah, yes. Because I’m known for my genius,” Harry drawled. It didn’t hurt coming from Riddle the way it would from his family. Riddle had been “awake” in the world again for five years, after all, and had had plenty of time to see that Harry wasn’t smart, but he wasn’t blood kin.
“You do not know what I am saying.”
“No, I don’t. Hurry it up, Riddle. I’ve got a constipated happy expression to practice in the mirror.”
Riddle halted and stared at him. He didn’t show any evidence of anger, Harry noted, a little uneasy. Riddle always had, before. The fact that it took so little to anger him was one reason Harry had never thought Riddle should marry his sister.
“You cannot transform light into a solid substance,” Riddle said quietly. “No wizard alive could take a Lumos Charm and turn it into anything—not ice, not water, not crystal as you did. They could conjure ice or water or crystal. But not transform it. Transfiguration only works on solid objects.”
“That wasn’t a Lumos Charm, and it wasn’t Transfiguration.”
“I know that.” Riddle kept whispering in a sepulchral voice, as if he was trying to impress a child by telling a ghost story. “It was Arithmancy. You were thinking through numbers in your head again, weren’t you?”
Harry gave a sarcastic clap. “This is a surprise to you after what I told you this afternoon?”
Riddle didn’t move, and the way he was eating up Harry with his eyes was becoming steadily more unnerving. Harry jerked his chin up a little. Well, fine, the arsehole could be unnerving. That didn’t mean Harry was going to roll over and bare his belly in front of him.
“Arithmancy can predict the future,” Riddle said. “It can indicate auspicious days for brewing a potion, or breaking a curse. It can model the likely success of a curse-breaking venture.” His hands were shaking, Harry noticed, until he clasped them behind his back and prowled a step closer. “It cannot affect the physical world, beyond the actual scratches of the quill on the parchment. It cannot transform objects.”
“And yet, it can.”
“You have invented a whole new branch of magic.” Riddle sounded drunk, something dark in his voice that made tension skitter up Harry’s spine as he identified it, finally. The dark thing was joy. “You have broken the laws of magic, and invented something new.”
“Uh.” Harry raised his eyebrows. “How much champagne did you have, Riddle? Better lay off tomorrow. You want to make sure that you’re of some use to Diana on your wedding night.”
He spun the words while the sinking sensation in his belly increased. He knew very well that Riddle wasn’t really drunk. And he also knew that Riddle being this fixated on him could not be a good thing.
“You are unique.”
Riddle said that as if he was announcing that Harry was made of gold with sapphires for eyes. Harry controlled the impulse to stab his wand through one of those burning dark eyes and controlled the impulse to flee, too.
This was insane. Riddle was getting married to Diana tomorrow.
Have you ever seen him look at Diana that way?
Harry breathed through the panic, which he forced back down. No, he hadn’t. But on the other hand, he hadn’t been around Riddle and Diana that much after he left Hogwarts. Riddle had “arrived” at sixteen, which he said would have been his fifth year at Hogwarts; had passed his OWL’s, with flying colors; and had attended as Harry’s yearmate for his sixth and seventh years, while Diana was in her third and fourth. Then Harry and Riddle had graduated, and Riddle had creepily endeared himself to Harry’s parents and Diana and acquired some fuck-off political job in the Ministry, while Harry went on to work at the Magical Menagerie. Diana and Riddle had become engaged at the end of her fifth year.
He probably looks at her that way all the time when I’m not around, Harry thought, and wished he could believe it himself.
But he forced the notion brutally aside. He could believe it. His brother-in-law was not getting sexually obsessed with him. Or magically. Or whatever the hell he was feeling at the moment.
“Uh-huh, Riddle.” Harry kept his voice deliberately light. “I’m not the kind of person who invents whole new branches of magic overnight. You know that. And you know that anyone could do what I just did. Heller’s Theorem was only waiting for someone to come along and prove it. Now anyone can use it. Look at the notes I gave you this afternoon. They’ll tell you.”
Riddle hadn’t blinked yet. Harry didn’t think it was his imagination that a slight red glow had entered his eyes. “But you are the one who did it.”
Harry shrugged. “First isn’t necessarily best. Good night.”
He stepped neatly past Riddle, heading for the entrance into the house. Sweet Merlin, he was tired. And he was going to go home, to his little flat above the Menagerie, and sleep. Maybe things would feel less like they were ruined when he woke u—
Riddle grabbed his wrist and spun Harry to his side. Harry opened his mouth to protest, and found Riddle bending him backwards over the railing of the balcony.
Utterly certain that Riddle was going to arrange to drop him somehow, Harry reached out and sank his curled fingers into Riddle’s shoulders. But Riddle stared at him for a moment, still holding him prisoner against the stone railing.
Then he kissed him.
Harry opened his mouth to shout a protest, and Riddle’s tongue sank into his mouth. Harry bit it, promptly and hard, but Riddle didn’t back off even though he made a noise of pain. He kept kissing Harry as if he thought that would allow him to drain off Harry’s Arithmancy magic for himself.
Harry focused his mind on a number he normally didn’t spend much time with and called his magic. Eight.
A tracery of violent purple light formed around Riddle’s feet in the shape of an infinity symbol and then snapped inwards, wrapping around his legs. Riddle went flying backwards from Harry and to the floor of the balcony, and then, enraged, Harry refocused his mind and lifted the bastard into the air.
The next second, Riddle was dangling upside-down from the side of the balcony, connected to the stone only by the rope of Harry’s magic, the loops of the figure eight he was caught in. Harry wiped his mouth and spat onto the top of Riddle’s head, not caring much about the enemy he might be making for life.
“What the fuck, Riddle?” He wished a second later that he’d waited to speak. His voice was shaking.
Riddle swung back and forth, and Harry hoped viciously that he would at least regret the stupid kiss with all the blood rushing to his head.
Instead, Riddle began, quietly, to laugh.
Harry glanced towards the house and remembered abruptly that Riddle surely couldn’t be gone from the party for long before someone would come looking for him, and Diana would see him dangling Riddle, and—
He wouldn’t have a family anymore after that.
Harry focused his mind on a different manifestation of eight, and the rope swung Riddle back up and over the balcony. He landed in a crumpled heap for a moment, but drew himself up immediately, his eyes shining as he fixed them on Harry.
“I want you.”
“Yeah, good luck even seeing me after tomorrow,” Harry said. If he knew Diana, the “insult” of giving her the wrong gift would mean she wouldn’t want to talk to him for weeks, and after that, Harry could come up with a way to avoid his family until his equations were ready.
Shit. He would have to build something into the equations to keep himself from being disturbed by Riddle, which meant he was going to have more work.
“I always get what I want. Harry.”
The way Riddle purred his name made Harry regret that he was bisexual. But he folded his arms and stared back and made one last reach for sanity. “Why in the world would you want me? You have what you want. Diana is beautiful and smart and powerful and performed some kind of magic no one else could do when she vanquished Voldemort.” Riddle’s eyes took on a red glow for a second, but he seemed to be listening, and Harry pushed forwards, heartened by that. “And I told you, anyone can do what I do, they just have to determine their own meaning for the numbers and perfect concentrating on them.”
“But no one else could have figured it out.”
Harry shook his head, disgusted and baffled, and walked back into the house. He caught Sirius’s eye as he crossed the entrance hall, and Sirius chased him to the front door and embraced him, briefly.
“Come over and talk to me and Remus tomorrow?” Sirius murmured.
“Yeah,” Harry said. He did need to talk to his godfather, to both his foster fathers. “Right now, I want to leave before someone else catches up with me.”
Sirius hugged him again, his eyes sad as he let Harry go. He didn’t say the words that he always had before. She didn’t mean it. It’s hard for your parents. They didn’t mean to abandon you.
Harry no longer thought the first of those three things was true, and right now, he didn’t care about the other two.
He walked out the front door and away from the house, moving at a steady trot until he was beyond the anti-Apparition wards. As he spun on his heel, he caught a glimpse of a dark figure standing and watching him from the front door. The burning sensation in the middle of his chest told him well enough who it was.
Riddle, you are fucking strange, Harry thought, and Apparated.