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Local Preteens Entrap Murderous Wraith (You Won’t Believe What Happens Next)

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“We don’t have to do this, you know,” Ron says, one hand gripping Hermione’s sleeve as they stare down at the giant hole where the sinks used to be. Harry looks quickly at his beat-up watch. Myrtle only agreed to keep everyone away until six, and it's nearly four. 

“I know,” Hermione says, and her voice only shakes a little bit. “But I want to. I-I have to see it.”

Harry steps up beside them, until the toes of his trainers poke out over the empty space. “I can go down first,” he offers.

Hermione clutches his arm, like she's afraid he'll fall. “You’re sure it’s safe?”

“Definitely,” Ron says with a nod. Harry's willing to bet that most of that certainty is for Hermione's sake; once Ginny was safe, Ron confessed he never wanted to step foot near the Chamber again. “The only one that really got hurt was Lockheart, and the idiot did that to himself once we were already down there.”

Actually... "I did almost die,” Harry feels compelled to point out.

“Right. But that was from the snake, not the trip down.”

Hermione presses her face into her hands. “This is a horrible idea.”

“Are we going back to Great Hall, then?” Ron asks.

She lets out a moan of despair—most likely at the latest stupid decision they’re about to make—then says, “No.” She stands taller, straightens her shoulders and plants her hands on her hips. Harry recognizes her expression from when she stared down Snape's riddle last year. “I’m doing this. We’re doing this.”

They stand there a moment longer, then another.

From one of the stalls behind them, Myrtle coughs.

Right, then. Deciding they’ve waited long enough, Harry makes sure his wand is tucked safely away and says, “See you at the bottom!” Then he hops over the edge and into the pipe, and the sound of Hermione’s startled shriek follows him down.

 

“Harry James Potter!” If the sound of little bones crunching beneath their shoes hadn’t alerted him to Ron and Hermione’s arrival, the scolding would have. “What on earth were you thinking, jumping like that!”

“You’re down here too,” he points out, offended. “You did the same thing!”

“I most certainly did not.” Apparently too upset to worry about—or maybe even notice—the giant snake skin stretched out beside them, Hermione marches right up to him and pokes him in the chest. “You jumped. I eased my way off of the ledge like a normal person.”

Harry looks to Ron for help, but all he does is shrug. “You’re on your own, mate.”

“Thanks, Ron.”

Hermione stomps her foot. “It’s not funny!”

“I know.” Before he can second guess himself, he leans in to wrap his arms around her in a hug—the first hug he’s ever given anyone. It feels… weird. He likes it. “But it’s fine, see,” he says, stepping back and stretching out his arms for her to see for herself that he’s not hurt. “We’re all fine.”

She only looks at him, eyes wide.

It occurs to him then that maybe he wasn’t supposed to hug her, that maybe he did it wrong.

Ron swoops in before he can worry too long, throwing one arm around Harry’s neck and the other around Hermione’s, tugging them both off balance. “We are fine,” he says, ignoring Harry’s laughter when they all nearly tumble to the floor together. “But that tunnel isn’t. We’re gonna need to fix if if we want to go any farther.”

“Oh, is that all?”

Hermione wriggles out of Ron’s hold, turning to face the rubble that blocks the way. He thinks he sees her rub at her eyes with the back of her hand, but then she’s brandishing her wand, and he’s too busy being impressed with her to wonder if she’d been crying.

“Brilliant,” Ron says as they watch the stone lift away, and he and Harry share a grin before they take off after her down the newly revealed path.

Harry stops them before opening the final door to the chamber. “Are you sure about this?” he asks one more time.

Ron has gone pale, but he nods, his jaw clenched.

Hermione wrings her hands. “You killed it,” she says, eyeing the door like it might bite her. “The…the basilisk. It’s dead.”

“It is.”

“You said it almost killed you.”

“…It did.”

She swallows. Nods. “I want to see it.”

He opens the door. The smell hits them first, and then they see it. Ron and Hermione go utterly still beside him. “Oh,” Hermione says eventually, her voice wet. She reaches out one hand, wraps it around his wrist. “Oh, Harry.”

Ron takes a small step forward then stops, his gaze trained on the basilisk’s giant corpse. He isn’t breathing. “I thought it’d be less…”

“Big?” Harry offers.

But Ron shakes his head. “Frightening,” he says instead, voice quiet. Then, “I’m going to hug you now.” At Harry’s startled look, he attempts a grin. “If that’s alright.”

And.

Huh. It is alright. “Okay,” Harry says, and then Ron slams into him, burying his face in his neck as his hands clench at his jumper, twisting it in his fists. He does the same, leaning in and resting his forehead on his friend’s shoulder. It’s nice.

Two hugs in one day, he thinks with a grin.

It’s a new record.

“Thank Merlin you’re okay,” Ron says, though Harry can barely hear it.

“Don’t thank Merlin,” he says before he can think. “Thank Fawkes.”

Ron chokes on a laugh, slowly letting go of him and taking an awkward step back, like he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. Like he’s embarrassed. “Does Fawkes like owl treats?”

“I don’t know,” Harry says. Hermione lets go of his arm to grab his hand instead; he squeezes it. “Next time I see him, I’ll ask.”

 

Eventually, the discomforted fear wears off, and they step all the way into the chamber together, quickly splitting up to explore. Harry is just about to pick up the fang he used to stab the diary when he hears—“Hey!” It’s Ron’s voice, but it’s echoing oddly. “I found something!”

He turns to see Hermione standing near the mouth of one of the tunnels. She has her arms crossed over her chest, and she’s frowning. “I told him,” she mutters as soon as Harry is close enough to hear. “I told him not to go off on his own, but did he listen?”

“You could’ve gone with him.”

She huffs, setting off down the tunnel with her nose in the air. Somehow, she manages to avoid stepping in any of the puddles, even without looking. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says once he catches up. “I wasn’t going to leave you by yourself.”

Oh.

Harry takes a deep breath, feeling like his chest is too full, suddenly. It’s…good. “I would’ve been fine.”

“Well, sure.” Hermione gives him an odd look over her shoulder; he can’t read it. “But you would’ve been worried, right? If you noticed we were gone?”

“I… Yeah. Thanks.” To distract himself from the uncomfortable (or too comfortable, maybe) warmth in his chest, he looks down to watch where he’s stepping. He hops over a puddle, then another, only realizing he’s misjudged the jump when he lands in the water. Hermione is too slow to avoid her shoes and socks getting splattered, and she yelps. He winces. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

Harry nods, stepping carefully around the next puddle instead of jumping. He can feel her gaze on him, but he doesn’t think she’ll say anything. And he’s right; she doesn’t say anything. Instead, the next time they reach one of the larger puddles, her footsteps quicken, and he looks up just in time to see her land. A sheet of cold water hits his trousers below the knees.

He stops and stares, mouth hanging open.

“There,” Hermione says, stepping primly out of the puddle. Her shoes are soaked. “Now we’re even.”

And Harry feels…odd. He’s cold. His trousers are sticking to his legs. The last time he came here, he was terrified out of his mind, and now… He opens his mouth—to ask if her shoes are okay, to ask why—and then he snorts.

Eyes wide, he claps his hands over his mouth.

Hermione looks just as surprised as he feels, and there’s something bright and bubbling crawling up his throat at the sight of her in the pale light of her wand—wide eyes, mouth hanging open, standing there in her wet shoes. The sunshine yellow jumper her mum bought her is streaked with grime from sliding down the pipe. She’s so out of place here, they all are. And the sound that comes out of him next isn’t quite a laugh, but it isn’t not—and then he’s laughing for real, breathless and entirely unable to stop.

 

Eventually, Ron manages to drag them away from the puddles and show them what he’s found. It’s… “A wall?” Harry asks, taking off his glasses to rub the lenses clean. He puts them back on, squinting at the raised lines—small carvings of snakes, he sees now—that cover this stretch of the wall. He traces one finger along the carvings, and they heat up beneath his tough.

“It’s the only part with these snakes, see?” Ron points to the surrounding stone. It’s completely blank. “I thought, well… I thought maybe this bit was special.”

“It could just be decoration,” Hermione says, but she doesn’t sound convinced.

Harry taps at the wall. “Let’s find out.”

One hissed word later, and they hear the scrape of stone against stone as the panel of wall slides open. For a long moment, they stand there in the now empty doorway, peering into the darkness. When nothing happens, Harry lifts his wand and casts a ball of light that drifts slowly into the dark. Eventually, the light hits the far wall and vanishes, but not before it reveals a room that looks just as out of place as they are down here.

In the new light that Hermione casts, they see that it’s about the size of the Gryffindor boys’ dorm, though it feels much bigger without five beds taking up space. Each wall is covered in shelves. A faded rug covers most of the stone floor, and there’s a large wooden desk sitting in the middle of it, covered in scattered papers and open books, like someone got up in the middle of researching and forgot to come back.

Next to him, Hermione looks like she might faint from excitement.

Harry nudges her with his elbow. “Go on, then.”

She jumps, glaring at Ron when he snorts before heading straight for the desk. Harry has just reached one of the shelves when she gasps. “I can’t read these!” she exclaims, bending to look closer at the yellowing pages without actually touching them. “They're so old; I bet the library doesn’t even have copies!”

“Y’reckon they were left by Slytherin?” Ron asks, drifting toward a shelf full of books that look like a single touch might make them fall apart.

“Maybe,” Hermione says, tucking her hair behind her ears. “It would explain the language.” She hovers one finger over the words, trying to sound them out.

Harry taps the binding of one of the books on his shelf. “This one’s from 1923,” he says, “so they can’t all be from him.”

“D'you think they might be from…” Ron trails off, looking uncomfortable.

Harry grimaces, pulling his hand back. He knows that before Voldemort existed, Tom Riddle was a student here, but it still feels odd to touch something he must have put here himself. “Probably.”

“Maybe we should leave,” Hermione says, though she sounds reluctant to abandon all of this potential knowledge.

Harry shakes his head, not considering it for a second. “No way,” he says. “We have to look. If Voldemort put these books here, that means they were important to him. Maybe there’s something here we can use to fight him.”

Ron picks up one of the books, scowling as he flips through the pages. “If they really did belong to You-Know-Who, can we trust any of it?”

Harry frowns. It’d be smart to be suspicious, but… “He thought he was the only person who could get down here, remember?” He’s only met Voldemort twice, but both times, Harry won because Voldemort underestimated him. He thinks that’s probably enough to assume the pattern will hold. “Why would he bother leaving traps?”

Hermione looks longingly at the books on the desk. “It would be a shame to just…leave them all here.”

As one, they turn their pleading gazes on Ron. He holds out for an admirable three seconds before he scowls and drops the book back onto the shelf, sending up a cloud of dust. “Fine," he says, "But if we all end up cursed because of this, I’m blaming you two.”

 

Nearly an hour later, they’re trudging up Hogwarts’s front steps, mud caked up their calves. “I cannot believe we forgot to make sure we had a way out,” Hermione says as she tries and fails to blow her hair out of her face. She’d use her hands, but they’re occupied with the books they’ve taken from the chamber. “What is wrong with us?”

Harry, with freshly scraped palms courtesy of a fall down the tunnel that eventually became their way out, grimaces. “At least we didn’t have to call for help.”

“Ugh. Can you imagine?” Ron asks as he and Harry strain to open the doors to the castle, peering in to make sure there’s no one waiting to catch them before they all slip inside. The doors shut behind them with a quiet thud, barely audible over the sound of dinner happening in the Great Hall. “I reckon we’d be in detention until we died.”

“Shh,” Hermione hisses, peering anxiously up the stairs. “They might still catch us.”

All but holding his breath, Harry leads them carefully up the stairs and to Gryffindor Tower. Once they reach the portrait, he stacks his own small collection of books into Ron’s arms and sets off to make sure the chamber entrance is closed, already dreaming of the shower he’s going to take when he returns.

 

Only a few days before the train will take them back to London, Hermione ushers them into an abandoned classroom, locking the door behind them. One pile of conjured cushions later, she sits and grabs one of the books they took from the Chamber out of her bag, flipping it open to a page near the middle. “I was able to translate some of it last night,” she says, pulling free a folded piece of parchment and passing it over. “Most of this book is just household spells, but this one…” She points to the middle of the page.

“A guardian spell?” Harry asks as he reads over Ron’s shoulder. “What sort of guardian?”

“I’m not sure,” she admits reluctantly. “The spell itself was… well, actually, it was pretty simple to figure out. But I don’t know what, exactly, it’s supposed to do.”

“It’s a binding spell,” Ron says. When they both turn to him, wanting to know more, he flushes, looking pleased with himself for having something to share. “It’s ‘cause of the ivy, see?” He shifts so both of them can get a better look at the list of components. “One time, Fred and George bound a gnome to Percy for an entire month just by burning a few shoots. ‘Course, it backfired on ‘em; the gnome started biting whenever Percy was bothered—not to mention what Mum did to them when she found out…”

“I din’t know ivy had magical properties,” Hermione says, leaning in like she might absorb the information from Ron’s brain if she just gets close enough. “None of our herbology texts have mentioned it.”

“That’s because it doesn’t, not really,” Ron explains. Hermione’s hand is twitching, like she’s longing for a quill and some parchment. “It’s more about the meaning than the plant itself.”

Harry, who isn’t particularly interested in how it works, plucks the parchment from Ron’s hand, looking it over. He likes the sound of this spell; he could use a biting gnome when he goes back to the Dursleys. “You know,” he says, eyes narrowed as he looks over the list, “we could probably find all of these things just…around.”

Hermione looks startled. “You want to cast it?”

“Well, yeah.” Harry doesn’t falter under their skeptical stares. “Isn’t that why we brought those books with us when we left? To use them?”

“I suppose…”

“Think about it,” he interrupts. “If this spell is meant to conjure a guardian—“

“Bind a guardian,” Ron corrects.

“—then this summer is the perfect time to test it. If it can’t handle the Dursleys, it definitely won’t help us against Voldemort.”

Hermione still doesn’t look entirely convinced, but Ron is nodding. “He’s got a point.”

She takes the parchment back. “Well, if we’re going to try out a new spell, a protective one is probably the best kind.” She bites her lip, brow furrowed in thought. “And nothing on here is particularly dangerous…” In the ensuing silence, the three of them just look at each other, each waiting for someone else to be the voice of reason and put a stop to this.

But no one speaks up.

 

The next day, they perform the spell.

 

When Harry’s supposed guardian fails to show up by the time they’ve been ushered off the platform at King’s Cross, Ron pats him on the shoulder, grimacing. “Tough luck, mate,” he says, eyeing Uncle Vernon’s waiting form dubiously. ”Keep us updated, yeah?”

Harry nods, feeling disappointed though he refuses to admit it aloud.

He should’ve known the spell wouldn’t work.

With one last sigh and a brief hug from Hermione—something that’s been happening more and more often since he first hugged her outside the Chamber—he drags his trunk toward Uncle Vernon, whose scowl only grows the closer he gets.

He has a terrible feeling that this might just be his worst summer yet.

 

And it is, at least until the snake shows up.

Uncle Vernon locks up his things the moment they're back to the house, and he's quickly warned that the second he uses Hedwig to send mail to his friends, she'll be locked in her cage until autumn.

The only positive is that they refuse to spend any time in his presence outside of meals, which means they're never around him long enough to be awful. Two weeks in, and he's barely seen them; he’s taken to escaping to the park whenever he can. Really, it’s a win-win. He gets to be out of the house, and the Dursleys don’t have to put up with his awful, magical self invading their normal life. He’s just about ready to write the entire summer off as a loss when he hears a long, low hiss from behind him and nearly falls off the swing he's claimed.

He twists in the seat and freezes.

The snake responsible for the noise—a cobra bigger than any other snake he’s seen outside the zoo and the Chamber—nudges at his foot, tongue flicking out to smell him.

“Erm.” He looks around. The park is empty. “Hello?”

“Hello, hatchling,” the snake says. He holds himself still as she winds up his leg and coils half in his lap—she’s far too big to fit entirely. “Are you well?”

Harry looks around again, like something about the vacant park might tell him how he’s supposed to react. “Well enough,” he says eventually. Then, because he might as well be polite, “Are you?”

“Yes,” the snake—she, he thinks, though he has no idea why he’s so sure—tells him, “we are well.”

We?

Harry tentatively strokes one hand over her glittering scales, then does it again when she doesn’t seem to mind. “I’ve never seen a snake as big as you before,” he says, though he’s certain the snake he set on his cousin might disagree. The basilisk certainly would, if it were still alive to do so. Nevertheless, the snake preens beneath his touch like he intended. “Why are you here?”

“For you, hatchling,” she says.

Harry’s breath catches, and he almost knocks her off his lap in his excitement. “Are you my guardian?”

“What is a guardian?”

“Someone who protects something.”

“Then yes.” The snake noses at his belly, then climbs higher to rest her head along his shoulders. Her tongue flicks at his neck. “We will protect you.”

“You must've come from far away, if it took you this long to find me.”

“Yes. Very far."

Harry grins, scratching lightly at her scales. He should’ve known a spell found in the Chamber of Secrets would give him a snake for a guardian. Ron and Hermione might not be too pleased to learn about it, but the thrill of the spell working at all will surely help them get over it.

 

Days pass, and he keeps sneaking out of the house.

The snake keeps meeting him.

 

The first time she sees the remnants of a run-in with Dudley’s gang, he thinks she might kill someone. “Who did this?” she demands, her hood flaring.

“It’s nothing,” he says instead of answering. He twists his arm to get a look at the bruise that’s caused so much rage. The skin near the edge is broken—there’s a trickle of blood down his elbow—but it’s small. “I’m fine.”

“You’re bleeding.”

Thinking it might help, he says, “Only a little.”

“You said you were safe here,” she hisses, accusing.

Right. He did say that, didn’t he—she'd asked one day why he stayed, and he'd told her about his mum's sacrifice, about Voldemort being after him, though he didn't call him by name. “I am safe,” he says, then adds, “relatively speaking. My cousin’s never tried to kill me, at least.”

She rears back, furious. “Your cousin—your family did this?”

“Yes,” Harry admits with a sigh, “but I’m fine, like I said already. And anyway, they’re much better than they used to be.”

That doesn’t appear to have the effect the intended. Instead of appeased, she’s only more upset. “We can’t protect you here.”

“That’s not your fault—“ Harry tries to tell her, but she isn’t listening.

“Your teacher lied to you; this place isn’t safe at all. It’s no place to raise a hatchling.”

“Okay, but—“

She nudges against his cheek and says, insistent, “We will fix this.”

By the time he thinks to ask how, she’s already left.

 

Three days later, he’s stuck inside on account of the rain coming down in sheets, and the house is empty. Thankfully for his sanity, he picked the lock on the cupboard door the first chance he got and his his school things under the loose floorboard. Which means instead of lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling, he can spend his time lying on his bed and staring at a textbook.

The Dursleys left soon after lunch, and while they didn’t tell him when they plan to return, he’s decided to risk working on one of his essays for next term anyway—as opposed to waiting until tonight when they’re all asleep. As long as he listens for the car returning, he should have plenty of time to hide everything before he’s caught.

It’s only because he’s listening so closely that he hears the muffled crack from outside. At the sound of it, he flinches, nearly knocking over his ink bottle.

If that wasn’t enough, his scar starts prickling shortly after.

Deciding that’s as good a sign as any, he sets down his quill, more than ready for a break. He gets out of bed, peering out the window as he passes by on the way to hide his things in the dresser, only to freeze because—

There’s a man standing in the yard, staring up at the house.

Harry ducks aside, hand rising to his forehead. The pain he usually associates with Voldemort isn’t there. The tingling hasn’t stopped, but it’s been happening all summer, so it could be nothing… When he dares to look again, the man is gone.

And then the knocking starts.

Harry stands there for a long moment, just listening, waiting to see if the man will go away.

When that fails, he creeps carefully down the steps, trying to get a look at the man without been seen. It doesn’t work, but at least the man stops knocking. Feeling nervous, though he’s not entirely sure why, he opens the door just a crack. A pale haired, plain looking man he’s never seen before is standing on the other side, wearing unassuming robes. He wouldn’t look out of place in Diagon Alley, but he’s definitely out of place here. The vacant look on his face isn’t helping.

He opens the door just a little bit wider.

“Hello?” he says. When he gets no response, he pokes his head outside and looks both ways. The street is empty. He turns back to the man, brow furrowed. “Can I help you?”

The man staggers forward, and Harry jerks back.

He’s too late to lunge for the door; by the time he thinks to slam it in the stranger’s face, the man is already inside. Though…he still isn’t doing anything. Harry presses back against the wall, edging toward the table with the vase that Aunt Marge brought with her last time she visited. It’s heavy enough that he can use as a weapon if needs to, since his wand is still tucked away in his trunk. “What do you want?” he demands in a voice that’s much more confident than he feels.

“H-harry Pott-ter,” the man says in a rasping voice, looking pained. He jerks one hand up, like he’s going to grab him.

Harry ducks away with a shout. He grabs the vase in one hand and swings, catching the man over the head with a solid thunk. He drops like a stone, falling to his hands and knees. The vase isn’t even cracked. Still clutching it in one hand, Harry kicks out, catching the man beneath the jaw, and he crumples. Harry stays standing, vase poised to throw, half-wondering if he’s just killed a man for the second (third? he isn’t sure if the diary counts) time in his life.

He hopes he hasn’t.

Uncle Vernon would probably skin him alive if he killed someone in his home.

Eventually, the man groans, and Harry relaxes just a little. Eyes fluttering open, he looks around, looking very confused. If this is an act, it’s a very good one. Then his gaze lands on Harry, and the vase still clutched in his hand, and he pales. “Erm, hello,” he says in a lower and much smoother voice than before. He holds up his empty hands, palms out. “Would you mind putting that down?”

“Yeah, actually,” Harry tells him, “I would.”

“Ah.” The man moves to stand, then stills, lowering himself back down when Harry’s grip on the vase tightens. “I’ll just, er, stay here on the floor?” When Harry nods, so does he. “Right. Have you kidnapped me, then? I must say, you look a little young for it.”

“You forced yourself into my house and tried to grab me,” Harry tells him, watching his reaction carefully. “If anyone’s the kidnapper here, it’s probably you.”

The man looks like he might be sick. “O-oh.” He takes a shuddering breath, then lifts a hand to his head. “Would you believe me if I said I don’t remember doing that?”

“You know what?” Harry thinks of the odd, shuffling way Quirrel moved when Voldemort took control, the rasping sound of Voldemort’s speech through him. “I think I would.”

 

Eventually, after many flustered yet heartfelt apologies, the man leaves with a promise to never return again, and Harry watches through the window as, with a much louder crack than before, he disappears like he was never there at all.

 

Next time he sees the snake, she’s sulking.

He crouches low so no one passing by the park—which is busier than usual today—will see him talking to her. “What’s wrong?”

“We wish to protect you, hatchling,” she says, and if she could he suspects she’d be pouting, “but you make it very hard.”

“Hang on,” Harry protests. “Is this about that man yesterday? That wasn’t my fault. I’ve never seen him before in my life!”

She lets out a thoughtful hiss. “This is why you fought?”

“Well, he also tried to grab me.” Harry wonders what it says about him that he’s barely fazed by yesterday’s almost kidnapping. Nothing good, probably. “He didn’t even say why.”

“I see.” She uncoils just enough to nudge her head into his lap, and he rests his hand on her head. “I tried to tell my Master this. A familiar face is less of a threat.”

Harry furrows his brow. That sounds almost like…

“Well,” he says, not wanting her to catch on to his suspicions, “it depends on the face.” But he needn’t have bothered. She’s already turning to go, disappearing into the tall grass that edges this side of the park. “Wait, where’re you going?”

“Time, hatchling,” is all she says, “this will take much.”

And then she’s gone.

 

His birthday arrives, and still his snake hasn’t returned. “Do you think she’s okay?” he asks Hedwig. The owl doesn’t appear to listen, too busy picking through her feathers. Harry sighs, stroking her neck. “I bet she is; there probably isn’t much that could hurt her here. Well, maybe a car, but she’s pretty smart. I don’t think she’d get run over.”

Hedwig nips affectionately at his fingers, then abandons him for her perch near the window, where Errol is still recovering from his flight.

Harry flops back onto his bed. “She’ll come back.”

She has to.

He falls asleep staring at the cards his friends sent him, and while the sight of them settles a fear he hadn’t recognized until it was gone, he can’t help but wish for more. Maybe, he thinks as his eyes drift shut, his snake will come back in the morning, and it’ll be the best birthday he’s ever had.

Later, he thinks he really should've known better. 

When he finally trudges down the stairs the next morning, he learns that not only has his snake not returned to gobble up the Dursleys in their sleep, but the Dursleys will be hosting a much less pleasant visitor instead—his awful Aunt Marge, who isn’t even his aunt—and she’ll be staying for an entire week. As soon as his uncle leaves to pick her up from the station, he retreats back to his room to make sure everything even remotely magical is hidden away. At the very least, he thinks as he shoves the loose floorboard back into place, in exchange for behaving like the proper, Muggle delinquent they’ve told everyone that he is, Uncle Vernon has promised to sign his Hogsmeade form.

He still doesn’t like being insulted—or being treated like he’s just another piece of furniture, something to be ignored entirely as his relatives go about their business—but at least this time he’s getting something out of it.

Chapter Text

Three days later, Harry is regretting his promise to go along with it all.

He’s sitting beside Dudley in the back seat of Uncle Vernon’s car, on his way to London for the day because Aunt Marge wanted to treat her beloved nephew to a gift (or five, or fifteen, he thinks bitterly) and didn’t trust him alone in the house with Ripper. Which is stupid, he thinks as he leans his head against the window, because unlike Aunt Marge’s awful dog, Harry has never torn up the curtains or pissed on the carpets.

Aunt Petunia was set to leave him outside for the day, and Harry was halfway out the door already, when Aunt Marge suggested they bring him along to carry their bags.

So here he is, bracing himself for what’s sure to be the worst day of his summer so far.

Nearly two hours later, the only thing that keeps him from tossing the bags he’s holding at their feet and vowing to find his own way home is the thought of his Hogsmeade letter, still unsigned.

“Wait here,” Aunt Petunia snaps once they settle upon a cafe for lunch—here being a bench across the street, close enough to keep an eye on without having to put up with his presence.

Harry sits with as much dignity as he can manage. “Gladly,” he says, only a little bitter about not getting to eat with them. If it means he doesn’t have to spend an entire meal in close company with those three, he’ll gladly wait outside, his rumbling stomach be damned.

He tucks the shopping bags under the bench behind his legs, then settles in for a long wait.

He’s only just closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the bench when a shadow falls over him. Frowning, he peeks his eyes open to see a tall, dark-haired man standing far too close to him to be normal. He braces himself for whatever he’s about to hear, wonders if maybe he can get away with claiming he doesn’t speak English. Then he hears the man speak— “Hello, Harry.”—and he shoots straight, staring with wide eyes because he knows this man. Or, he knew a boy who looked—and spoke—just like him.

“Oh, god,” he says, feeling like he might pass out.

The man—Voldemort—smiles, and it’d be pleasant if it weren’t for the look in his dark eyes, like he wants to flay Harry alive. “It’s been too long,” he says evenly.

And that’s all Harry needs to hear.

With a shout, he winds back and plants his fist in Voldemort’s gut. Then he scrambles to his feet and takes off running, abandoning the shopping bags without a thought. Shoving through the crowd, he leaps a nearby fence and tears through a park, looking for somewhere to hide. Looking for someone who can help.

But Voldemort catches him.

“Stop. Fighting,” he snarls, one knee planted firmly in the center of Harry’s back, one hand tangled in his hair and pressing his face to the dirt. “It won’t work. You won’t get away, and even if you did—“ Harry claws uselessly at the ground, struggling for air. “—I would find you. I will find you, Harry Potter, wherever you go, and I will come for you.”

Harry screams into the dirt, only to choke off into a pained groan when Voldemort presses heavier against his back. His scar is burning. His back hurts where Voldemort’s knee is pressing down against it, and no one is helping.

Why isn’t anyone helping?

“How?” he asks, gasping, when Voldemort lets up just enough for him to breathe. “How’d you do it?”

Above him, Voldemort lets out a cruel laugh. “I?” he asks. “You think I did this?”

“Of course it was you,” Harry spits, nearly slipping into Parseltongue. “It’s always—“ He falters, then, as he realizes what Voldemort is saying. His eyes burn; he should have known it was too good to be true. “It was you, wasn’t it? The snake…”

“And that pathetic wretch of a man who visited you at your family’s home.” He forces Harry to turn his head, to meet his gleeful gaze. “And the shadow out of the corner of your eye when you thought yourself alone. Yes, Harry, I was there.”

“How?” he demands, bravado not quite masking fear.

And Voldemort laughs again, an edge of madness to the sound. “Oh, you lucky little idiot. You have no idea what you’ve done.”

Harry takes a shuddering breath, clenches his eyes shut when they burn. With a noise of disgust, Voldemort’s weight disappears from his back, and then he’s being hauled to his feet and all but dragged out of the park. Harry lets Voldemort lead him, too busy trying to force his brain into working order to fight it.

Dumbledore told him they have a connection, but he never said it’d be like this. He said Harry would be safe if he stayed with the Dursleys.

Which means Dumbledore doesn’t know about it.

And surely if Voldemort could have found him sooner, before this summer, he would have. Which means this is new, and the only thing that’s new, is… “Oh my god,” Harry says, planting his feet. He stares in horror as the man turns to face him. “Oh mY GOD!”

“Oh, for—Calm down,” Voldemort orders, tightening his hold on Harry’s arm and dragging him off the street.

Harry jerks in his hold, kicks uselessly at his shin. “That stupid spell!” he yells, an edge of hysteria to his voice. “Are you kidding me?”

“You are making a scene,” Voldemort hisses, like he has any room to talk after tackling Harry into the dirt back in the park.

“My guardian is fucking Vol-dghhk.” He’s forced into silence when Voldemort’s giant hand grips his face, holding his mouth shut. He tries to tear free, to bite, but Voldemort holds him still. “Nghk.”

“I will release you when you stop throwing a fit, and no sooner.” Harry stares out at the passing crowd with wide eyes, feeling like he’s not quite in his body. Some of the people walking by cast them concerned glances as they pass, but no one stops. Voldemort shakes him. “Do you understand me?”

Harry tries to nod and finds he can’t; Voldemort’s hold is too tight. He lets out a strangled noise of assent.

“Good.”

As soon as he’s released, Harry wrenches the rest of the way free and breaks into a sprint. “HELP!” he yells, staggering out onto the street. “HELP! HE’S—“ The ground beneath his feet ripples, and he tumbles to the pavement with a yelp.

Someone gasps, and then strange hands are lifting him by the arms, helping him back to his feet. “Oh, my!” a woman is saying, her hands fluttering over his arms, checking for scrapes. “Are you alright, dear?”

Harry shakes his head, gasping. “No, no, I’m not. There’s—“

“He’s fine,” Voldemort says darkly from behind him, and Harry whirls to face him. “I’m afraid he’s just a little overexcited.”

More people are gathering now, looking worried and muttering amongst themselves. Harry hears at least one person mention the police. “Do you know this man, dear?” the woman asks him.

Harry starts shaking his head, and Voldemort shifts before his eyes, going from threatening to tired before he can blink. “He’s my son,” Voldemort says, and then lets out a heavy sigh, running a hand through his hair. “He’s been staying with his mother until very recently, and I’m afraid he’s not quite used to the change.”

Harry is too outraged at Lord fucking Voldemort invoking his mum—calling himself his dad—to say anything, and the onlookers soften when he doesn’t immediately protest. “My daughter went through the same thing,” one of them says, and a few more murmur in agreement. “It’ll pass, just give your boy some time.”

Harry feels like he’s going to explode. “What!”

“I’m sorry, dear, we don’t mean to talk over your head.” The woman from before pats his shoulder, smiling at him, then at Voldemort. “You be good for your father, now,” she says, and then she just…walks away. Harry stares after her, feeling betrayed.

The crowd disperses quickly after that.

Harry is left wondering if he’s the only sane person in the whole of London. He feels Voldemort come closer and whirls to face him. “You jinxed them,” he spits.

Voldemort raises one dark brow. “Would you have preferred the alternative?”

Harry’s breath catches. “No.”

“Hmm. So I thought.” Voldemort extends one hand to him, and Harry wants to keep fighting, wants to keep running, but he doesn’t know if the people on the street will escape with their lives a second time. Voldemort’s expression darkens. “Harry.”

He reaches out, and he lets Voldemort take his hand.

Then the world drops out from under his feet, and as he’s squeezed through the smallest tube known to man, he thinks he should have kept running.

 

He comes out the other side gagging, collapsing to his knees. Voldemort lets out a disapproving sigh, but still he feels a cool hand begin rubbing circles on his back. It’s awful, but the feeling in his body is worse, so he lets it happen. Eventually, he lifts his head, glaring weakly. “What was that?” he rasps.

Voldemort grits his teeth, like he’s trying not to answer, then says, “Apparition.” Before Harry can open his mouth to ask another question, he adds, “Should you wish to know more, I’ll provide you with a book on the subject.”

Harry stares, caught off guard by the answer that actually promises to be helpful. Maybe… “What’re you going to do with me?”

Voldemort stands. “What I must.”

This time, he waits for Harry to get up on his own, though he offers a hand up with a blank face. Harry ignores it. “Where are we?” he asks, looking around with wide eyes as Voldemort leads him toward a large hill. On the other side of it, there’s a decently sized village—a Muggle one, by the look of it.

“England,” Voldemort says dryly.

Harry kicks a rock at the back of his leg, then holds his breath when Voldemort peers over his shoulder, blank faced for all that he can feel the fury radiating off of him in waves—echoed by the throbbing in his scar. Ignoring the little voice in his head that sounds like Hermione, which tells him it’d probably be a good idea to keep his mouth shut right about now, he says, “You brought me here. I deserve to know where here is.”

After a pause, during which Harry really does think he’s about to be wiped off the face of the earth, Voldemort lets out a forceful sigh. Through gritted teeth, he says, “We are in Little Hangleton.”

Harry scrunches up his nose. “Why?”

Voldemort resumes walking and says, “Because my house is here.”

“You have a house?”

“Of course I have a house, you—“ He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Are you going to ask questions the entire time?”

“Maybe.”

“I see.” He sounds almost friendly now, and it’s enough to send warning bells blaring in his head. “Would you like me to knock you unconscious and drag you the rest of the way there by your hair?”

“…No.”

“Then let me ask again. Are you going to ask questions the entire fucking time?”

Harry edges carefully out of grabbing range. “I think I’m done with questions, actually.”

“Wise decision.”

By the time they reach the bottom of the hill, atop which is a creepy looking house that could only belong to Lord Voldemort, Harry has bitten back three complaints about his feet hurting and fifteen different questions about what’s going to happen to him now. He hopes Voldemort appreciates it, but he’s pretty sure the man would’ve enjoyed the chance to knock him out and drag him along the ground at least as much as he enjoyed the silence.

The gate creaks open under Voldemort’s hand, and Harry follows him up the hill, glaring at his long legs that eat up the distance like it’s nothing.

If he isn’t at least as tall as Voldemort when he grows up, he’s suing the universe.

 

The next morning, Harry wakes to the sight of a snake hovering above his face.

He yelps, flailing so hard he falls right out of the bed he claimed for himself last night, landing on his back on the floor. The snake—his snake, or maybe not—pokes her head over the edge. “Good morning, hatchling.”

Harry glares. “Your master is Voldemort,” he says, accusing.

With a thud, she follows him to the floor, coiling into his lap. “Yes,” she says. “I did not tell you, because I knew you would run. We can’t keep you safe when you run.”

“He said he can find me wherever I go.” She noses beneath his chin, and he scratches gently at her scales. He’s still mad at her, though.

“Until you are found, you aren’t safe.”

“I’m not safe here.”

She rears back, hissing a wordless threat. “If anyone tries to hurt you, I will bite them!”

“But what about Voldemort?” he presses, remembering the weight of his knee against his back, the bruising grip around his arm. “What if he hurts me?”

“He will not.” He wonders how she can be so sure. “You are his to protect, now. The magic will not let him.”

Maybe her definition of hurt is different from his.

Either way, he hopes she’s right. Either way—“I’m glad you’re here.”

 

The next time he wakes up, he’s alone on the floor.

He takes a moment to just stare up at the ceiling, reminding himself where he is. All around him, the house is creaking. He hears footsteps from the floor below. Once he’s on his feet again, he tugs on the socks that he kicked off during the night and shoves his feet back into his trainers, not trusting this house enough to go without them. He’s wearing yesterday’s clothes because they’re all he had with him, and he’d refused to ask Voldemort for literally anything.

He doesn’t bother trying to be quiet as he walks down the steps.

Apparently, he’s Voldemort’s problem now. If he wants to be loud, the man will just have to deal with it.

He finds him in one of the fancier rooms on the ground floor, staring at the furniture like he’s seeing something else entirely. Once he’s decided that Voldemort won’t be acknowledging him on his own, he says, “I need my stuff.”

Voldemort blinks, then looks over at him. “Pardon?”

“My stuff,” Harry says, crossing his arms to hide the way his hands are shaking. “It’s all at my relatives’ house, and I need it.”

“No.”

“What—what do you mean, no?”

“Exactly as it sounds.” That said, Voldemort turns sharply on his heel and strides for the back of the house. Harry stares after him, mouth hanging open.

Then he hurries after him, snagging him by the sleeve. “But I—“ At Voldemort’s vicious glare, the lets go of him and takes a large step back. “I need my wand,” he says. “I need my clothes. I need to do my homework!”

“Whatever for?”

“For…what?”

Voldemort looks at him like he’s an insect he’d like to squish beneath his boot. “Why are you concerned about homework?” he asks, sneering.

Harry glares right back at him. “Because If I don’t do it,” he says slowly, “my professors will kill me when I get back. Snape—"

“You’re not going back to Hogwarts.”

Harry stops, stares, not sure he heard right. “Yes, I am.”

“No.” Voldemort steps closer, until he’s officially looming over him. “You are not. Loathe as I am to admit it, you are now my responsibility. Hogwarts has proven itself unsafe—“

“Because of you!” Harry shouts, interrupting. He can’t believe this. Poking his finger into Voldemort’s chest, he says, “You were the one who wanted the stone. You were the one who made that stupid diary—“

Voldemort’s hand crushes his, and it’s enough to make him shut up. For now. “Diary?” he asks, voice dangerously soft. “What diary?”

Harry decides he doesn’t care about the man’s sudden mood shift. “The one with your arsehole of a younger self stuck inside!” he yells, glaring. He thinks maybe he should stop talking, but he’s too mad to care. “The one that released a bloody basilisk into the school and wouldn’t stop petrifying everyone!”

“What happened to it?” Voldemort asks, voice sharp. “This…diary?”

Harry jerks his chin higher. “I destroyed it.”

The air grows heavier, colder, until it’s difficult to breathe. He’s surprised his scar isn’t bleeding. Around them, all the glass in the room is rattling.

Lips barely moving, Voldemort asks, “How?”

Harry tries to tug his hand free, winces when the already bruising grip only grows tighter. “With a basilisk fang,” he says, forcing his voice steady.

He’s released, then, and he immediately takes another large step back, eyeing the man warily. Voldemort is staring at him still, but he gets the feeling the man isn’t really seeing him. In fact, he looks very much like he’d love to be strangling someone right about now. If he needed proof that the spell is working, he figures the fact that it isn’t him that Voldemort is strangling should suffice.

“I see.” His face is blank; his voice is devoid of all emotion. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go murder someone.”

“What!” Harry latches onto his arm, though he knows Voldemort could easily shake him off. “You can’t!”

He hates Lucius Malfoy too, but that doesn’t mean the man should be murdered for it.

Voldemort lets out a sharp, hissed curse, but doesn’t otherwise move. Harry decides this is something to feel encouraged by. “Can’t I?” Voldemort asks, glaring off into the distance. Harry has never once wished to be in Draco Malfoy’s place, and this is especially true now. “Explain it to me, then. Why shouldn’t I go feed Lucius Malfoy his own intestines?”

“Because that’s disgusting.” When Voldemort is unmoved by this, he hurries to add, “You need to keep me safe, right? You can’t do that if you’re in jail for killing someone!”

Voldemort snorts. “I’ve killed many people, Harry—“

“I know.”

“—what’s one more?”

Harry does his best to think. “No one knows you’re back, right?” he asks, and he knows he’s found the right argument when the line of Voldemort’s shoulders grows tense. Well, more tense. “If you change that, then people are going to try to find you. You’d be too distracted to protect me.”

The only answer he gets is a long, low hiss. The glass in the room stops rattling.

Which, speaking of hissing… “Where’s your snake?”

“Nagini?” Apparently, the change in subject was enough to serve as the final nail in the coffin of Voldemort’s fury. “I've no doubt she’s around here somewhere. Why?”

“She woke me up today. Then I fell back asleep, and she was gone. I…” He looks down, notices he’s fidgeting with Voldemort’s sleeve and snatches his hand back like he’s been burned. “I missed her, after she left.”

“If you’d let me take you the first time, you needn’t have missed her at all.”

Harry looks up to meet his amused gaze, glaring. He points again, accusing, “You tried to kidnap me!”

“I successfully kidnapped you.”

“Well, yes, but—“ Harry sputters, wondering if maybe this is all some sick joke. “I meant the first time! And anyway, you can’t be mad about that! I’m mad about that!” Voldemort looks to be on the verge of laughing, and Harry wishes he had his wand. He may not know many offensive spells, but he knows how to stab things, and his wand is pretty sturdy. “And anyway, how the hell was I supposed to react to a strange man forcing his way into my house and trying to grab me?”

Voldemort’s lip curls into what might be a grin. “I could have done without the vase the the head.”

“I could have done without your existence!”

Looking up to the ceiling, not quite rolling his eyes, Voldemort asks, “Would you like an apology?”

Harry recoils. The thought of getting an apology from the man, of maybe even accepting one, makes his skin crawl. “No,” he snaps.

“Good. You won’t be getting one. Now, come.”

Harry follows because he has nothing better to do. “Where’re we going?”

“To the garden,” Voldemort tells him, holding the door open for him. “Nagini will likely be somewhere outside, now that the sun is out.”

He’s right; they find Nagini nearly halfway down the hill. They also find an old man, who’s brandishing a shovel at her, swearing and red in the face. “Stop!” Harry shouts, not certain whether he’s talking to the man or the snake. Either way, both turn to look at him, and he rushes between them, wrapping his arms around Nagini’s neck—she hisses in protest but doesn’t fight him, and he vows to thank her for it later.

Meanwhile, the man stares at him in horror. “What are you—get away from it, boy!”

Harry shakes his head, but before he can say anything in her defense, Voldemort chooses to intervene. Not surprising Harry at all, he has nothing helpful to say, drawling, “She has a name.”

The old man barely glances at him, spitting at the ground between them. “That beast nearly took my foot off. I don’t care what you call it.” Then his brows furrow, and he turns back to look at Voldemort more closely, lowering the shovel as he tilts his head and squints. “Hang on, do I…?”

“Do you…what?”

“I know you.”

“You do not.”

“No, no,” the old man says, planting his shovel into the ground, leaning on the handle. “I believe I do! You’re one of them Riddles, aren’t you?” He either ignores or doesn’t notice the glare the mention of that name earns him. “Here to claim the house, are you?”

“Here to live in it,” Harry chimes in before Voldemort has a chance to give in to his many murderous impulses.

The old man turns to squint at him instead. “Your son?” he asks Voldemort.

Harry bites back the automatic protest that leaps to his tongue. It makes him want to shout or maybe break something, but. Well. There really isn’t a better explanation. And besides, they do look a bit alike, except for the fact that Voldemort is so pale.

Eventually, Voldemort says, “Yes.”

It sounds like it almost hurts him to say. Good. “He abandoned me when I was a baby, but he says he’s had a change of heart,” Harry adds to the story, just to make it worse for him. He widens his eyes, tries to look wounded and slightly pathetic. “I’ve never seen a house so big before, but he says it’s just for us.”

The old man raises his eyebrows.

Voldemort grits his teeth. “That is correct.”

“Well, good on you,” the old man says, though he still seems suspicious. He approaches Voldemort with his hand outstretched, and Harry has to bite back a hysterical laugh, leaning over to hide his expression in Nagini’s scales. “The name’s Frank—Frank Bryce. I’ve been the gardener here since before your family…” His gaze darts toward Harry, and he says, “Left.”

After a beat that’s too long to be polite, Voldemort offers his own hand, and they shake. “A pleasure,” he says, and it’s clear that to him, it’s anything but.

The old man just nods, then scratches at the edge of his cap. “S’pose I should get back to work, now.” He gestures to the cottage down the hill, at the edge of the property. “If you ever need me, or if you have any thoughts on the garden and its upkeep, I’ll be just there.”

When Voldemort doesn’t say anything more, the old man—Mr. Bryce—nods to himself then ambles off with a parting wave Harry’s way.

Harry watches him go, then turns to glare preemptively at Voldemort. “You can’t kill him.”

“I doubt the death of a single Muggle would draw any dangerous eyes our way.”

“But…he seems nice.”

Voldemort just looks flatly back at him. “I assure you, Harry, that has never stopped me before.”

Instead of addressing any of the awfulness tied up in that statement, he asks, “Will it stop you now?”

Voldemort pinches the bridge of his nose and gets a look on his face like he’s regretting everything in his life that’s brought him to this moment. “Killing him would upset you?”

Harry nods rapidly. “It really, really would.”

After pinning him with yet another glare—and, really, if he wants Harry to stay terrified, he needs to come up with some new methods of intimidation—Voldemort storms back toward the house, muttering about stupid spells and even stupider children all the way.

As he hears the back door slam shut in the distance, he turns to Nagini and says, “I think that went well.”

 

“Nagini says you should take me back to my relatives,” Harry says the next time he tracks Voldemort down, this time finding him in a small study off of the library. Of course, what she really said is they should return so Voldemort can torture the Dursleys into insanity, and then death. Harry has decided to leave that part out on account of the fact that Voldemort might actually do it.

Nagini, who is presently slithering over his feet, doesn’t call him on the discrepancy, and he appreciates her all the more for it.

“Well, if that’s the case, we might as well leave now,” Voldemort says, voice dry. He doesn’t even bother to look up from the book he’s flipping through.

Harry perks up. “Really?”

“No.”

Ugh! Harry nudges Nagini away so he won’t trip over her, then stomps over to plant his hands on Voldemort’s desk and lean in threateningly. He resents the fact that he needs to stand on his toes to do it. “I need my things.”

“Why?” Voldemort flicks to the next page. “We’ve already established that you aren’t returning to Hogwarts.”

“No, actually,” Harry says with a scowl, “we haven’t established that.” When Voldemort finally looks up from his book, eyes narrowed, he presses on. “And anyway, that’s not the point. All of my stuff is stuck at that house, and unless you feel like replacing my entire wardrobe”—he very deliberately doesn’t mention that there isn’t much of a wardrobe to replace—“then I need it. Also, I refuse to leave my wand where my relatives can get their hands on it.”

Hedwig, thankfully, is still at the Burrow; he sent her away as soon as he knew Marge was visiting.

The book in Voldemort’s hand closes with a snap. “Fine,” he says tersely. “I’ll go this evening.”

“You mean we’ll go this evening,” Harry says.

“No.” Voldemort stands and rounds his desk. Too quickly to doge, his snatches Harry’s arm and drags him out of the study. This habit, Harry thinks as he stumbles along behind him, he could do without. When they reach the room he’s claimed, Voldemort tosses him inside. “You will be staying here.” Then, to Nagini, he says, “Keep him inside.”

With a gesture, the door closes with a snap and the lock clicks into place.

Harry gapes at the now closed and locked door as Voldemort’s footsteps fade. He didn’t even know this room had a lock! He storms over to the door, yanking on the handle and ignoring Nagini’s disapproving hiss. Giving up, he smacks the door with his fist in frustration. “He locked me in!” he exclaims, kicking the door for good measure. “It’s not even three!”

“He wants you safe, hatchling,” Nagini says, interrupting his sulking.

“He can’t lock me up forever,” Harry threatens, clenching his fists. When Nagini nudges at one hand, he opens it for her to press her head to his palm. “How will I ever learn to take care of myself if he won’t ever let me try?" he asks her. "If he locks me up at every danger, I’ll never grow.”

Nagini tilts her head, a gesture she must have picked up in her time among humans. “I killed my first prey when I was just a hatchling,” she says, and she sounds thoughtful.

“And now you can hunt any prey you want, because hunting for yourself made you strong,” Harry says, stroking his hand down her neck. “How can I do the same when I’m stuck in here?”

“You must grow strong,” she agrees, rearing up to meet his gaze. “Master will not be pleased.”

Harry doesn’t really care, but because she does, he says, “You told me he’s smart, right? He’ll understand.”

It may not be true, but it’s effective, and she spends the next hour helping him find something to pick the lock on the door with.

The next time he hears footsteps on the stairs, he kneels beside the door and gets to work. He’s a bit surprised there aren’t any spells blocking the way too, but he doesn’t spend too long questioning it—clearly, Voldemort trusted Nagini to put a stop to any plan he might come up with. He reaches the bottom of the stairs as Voldemort is preparing to leave.

The bottom step creaks beneath his foot, and Voldemort stills.

He turns slowly to face them, already glaring. His gaze drops to Nagini first. “I told you to keep him inside.”

Nagini abandons him to wind her way up Voldemort’s body, and Harry is reluctantly impressed that he can hold her weight without staggering. “The hatchling is very convincing,” she says, and Harry preens. “He must learn to hunt for himself.”

Now it’s his turn to get glared at. “You’ve corrupted my snake.”

“You locked me in my room.”

Voldemort’s resulting sneer is very impressive, though it’s ruined a bit by the care with which he deposits Nagini back to the floor, ignoring her whinging. Apparently, she’ll be allowed to join them in Muggle hunting when she learns to say no to him. Harry wants to protest the term Muggle hunting on principle, but he bites his tongue because he doesn’t want to risk Voldemort locking him up again.

With one last glare at the both of them, Voldemort throws the front door open and stalks outside. Harry stares after him, struck by the realization that without the threat to back it up, he really is just a huge drama queen. And. Hmm. There’s a thought he’s never saying out loud.

Then he remembers the reason for his disobedience, and he hurries to catch up, hissing a thanks to Nagini over his shoulder. Once he’s in grabbing range, he latches onto the arm Voldemort offers, and they twist away with a nearly inaudible crack.

Chapter Text

This landing is just as horrible as the first, though he manages to stay standing by clinging to Voldemort’s arm. When he’s recovered enough that he no longer feels like he’s about to vomit up his lungs, he straightens. “Dumbledore said you couldn’t find me when I was with the Dursleys,” he says.

Voldemort makes a derisive sound. “That was true until you managed to bind us together.”

He casts a suspicious look at Harry, like he’s tempted to ask how he did it.

Harry only looks innocently back at him, keeping his mouth shut. If he tells, the man might figure out a way to undo it. Eventually, Voldemort rolls his eyes and turns to observe the house instead. Harry, who isn’t particularly interested in anything Voldemort might have to say about it, lets go of his arm and marches up to the door, knocking on it politely. Voldemort follows, knocking much louder.

From inside, Uncle Vernon bellows for someone to get the door.

Aunt Petunia’s pinched face greets them as the door swings open. At the sight of him, her expression sours. Then she sees Voldemort, and Harry has the horrible experience of watching her take him in, cheeks flushing as she attempts a far more pleasant smile. “Oh, hello,” she says, one hand pressed to her cheek like she could hide her blush. “I see you’ve found my nephew. Thank you so much for brining him back to us.” She looks at Harry again, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “I hope he wasn’t any trouble.”

And Harry can’t believe it.

He was taken yesterday. He’s been gone for over twenty-four hours, and this is her reaction to seeing him again?

He wasn’t expecting concern, exactly, not from her, but still… This?

“Trouble?” He looks away from her when he feels Voldemort’s gaze on him, remembering the chase through the park and the subsequent…everything. “Not at all.”

“Good, good.” Aunt Petunia opens the door wider. “We were just about to sit down for dinner, if you care to join us. You must let me repay you for bring th—Harry back to us.”

Harry scowls at her near slip.

Voldemort’s hand lands on his shoulder, and he says, a vaguely disgusted look on his face, “As…lovely an offer as that is, we won’t be staying long. We’ve only come to gather Harry’s things.”

“H-his things?” She takes a faltering step back, and Voldemort takes advantage, shoving Harry inside with the hand on his shoulder. Without being touched, the door clicks softly shut behind them. Aunt Petunia’s eyes widen as she pales, and she says—first weakly, then shrieking, “V-Vernon. Vernon, get in here!”

There’s grumbling from the dining room, a question from Aunt Marge, and then his uncle appears in the doorway. When he sees Harry, his expression darkens. “Thought we were rid of you, boy,” he says with a sneer—much less impressive than Voldemort’s, Harry notes absently. Then he catches sight of Voldemort behind him, and his brows furrow. “Who’re you, then?”

“He’s one of them,” Aunt Petunia spits from where she’s pressed herself firmly to the wall in an attempt to get as far away from them as possible. 

Uncle Vernon’s face starts to turn purple. He raises a threatening finger. “Now see here—“

A wave of Voldemort’s hand, and Uncle Vernon is thrown flat against the wall. Harry clasps his hands to his mouth to hold back a laugh, because it feels wrong to enjoy the sight of Voldemort hurting someone, even if it’s his awful uncle. “Where are your things?” he hears, and he only realizes he needs to answer when the hand on his shoulder squeezes.

“Upstairs.”

“Go, then. I’ll remain here and have a…chat with your dear family.” Harry hurries up the steps, and Voldemort calls after him, “No need to rush.”

For just a moment, he hesitates, looking between Voldemort and his relatives. Uncle Vernon looks furious, and Harry is certain he’d be shouting if he could. Aunt Petunia just looks afraid. From the dining room, he hears Dudley ask what’s taking so long, hears Aunt Marge’s easy dismissal.

Turning his back on them isn’t easy.

But it probably isn’t as hard as it should be.

 

Voldemort finishes his business first, and Harry looks up in the middle of packing to see him standing in the doorway of the bedroom with a carefully blank look on his face. “You’ve lived here for all these years?” he asks, touching one hand to the row of locks on the door.

Harry looks back to the clothes he’s folding. “Not all of them.”

“Explain.”

He can’t think of anything he’d like to do less right now. “What’d you do to the Dursleys?” he asks instead.

“Is that concern I hear, Harry?” Voldemort approaches the bed where Harry has piled his meager belongings. A part of him bristles at having the man here, where the Dursleys’ neglect of him is so obvious in every facet of the room. The rest of him wants to throw it in his face. “They still live,” Voldemort tells him, though he doesn’t sound happy about it. “If anyone is going to kill them, it will be you.”

Harry’s head shoots up. His heart is in his throat. “I won’t—“

“You should.” A pale, long fingered hand trails over the bare mattress he was given to sleep on after leaving his cupboard. It’s nicer than the small camp bed he had before, but not by much. “To think, Dumbledore’s precious savior, left in such rotten care…”

Rage so hot it catches him off guard flares in his chest. “Shut up!” he snaps, fists clenching. “You don’t get to say shit about—“ The smell of burnt fabric fills the air, and he drops the shirt in his hand with a yelp. He picks it up carefully, eyeing the holes where he held it before, then lifts his head to glare, accusing. “It’s your fault that I was left here. If you hadn’t—“

“I know,” Voldemort interrupts harshly, and his jaw flexes. He takes a breath, then says, “But even I would not leave a magical child in such a state.”

Harry wants to shout, suddenly.

Or maybe laugh.

“No,” he says instead, and he can’t hold Voldemort’s gaze. He carefully folds the burnt shirt, tucks it away with the rest in his trunk. “You just kill them.”

 

Later, as they’re walking up the hill to the house in uncomfortable silence, Voldemort says, “You have an owl, do you not?”

“She’s at a friend’s house.” Voldemort’s silence feels curious, and Harry is too tired to play keep away with information, especially when it’s not important. “My Aunt Marge doesn’t know about magic—or…didn’t, I guessso I had to pretend that I was normal. I couldn’t risk Hedwig making any noise, so I sent her away.”

When he dares to look, he sees Voldemort is glaring down at the village. “That, Harry, is exactly the sort of harm I wish to prevent. Muggles will never understand, and as long as they are free to go unchecked, it is our children who will suffer for it.”

Harry scoffs. “Because you care so much about protecting children,” he says, mocking. Then, before Voldemort can reply, he says, “And anyway, your solution is to kill all of them?”

Voldemort tsks. “If a few Muggles must die to secure our future—“

Harry kicks at the ground, glaring. “It’s more than a few, though, isn’t it?”

“What do you care for the fate of a few unlucky Muggles?”

“It’s wrong—“

“Of course it is,” Voldemort says silkily, “until they’ve hurt you.”

“I… That’s different,” he says weakly. Then, before Voldemort can tell him that it really isn’t, he says, “You didn’t kill them, though. The Dursleys.”

“No.” He feels Voldemort’s gaze on him. “That kill is yours to claim, as I said.” For a moment, Harry thinks he might leave it there. Then he ruins it. “But I hurt them, and you let me.”

Harry curls his arms around himself. “Would you…” He doesn’t want to ask, but he needs to know. “Would you have stopped, if I asked?”

They’ve almost reached the top of the hill when he gets his answer. “No,” Voldemort tells him, and Harry isn’t sure if he feels sick or relieved to hear it. “No, I wouldn’t have stopped.”

 

Harry ignores Voldemort for the rest of the night, refusing to eat the food he’s somehow procured and shutting himself away in his room instead. Still, he can’t quite bring himself to ignore Nagini. “You are upset,” she says in greeting, nosing open his door.

Harry turns over in his bed, drops one hand to the floor for her to poke at. “I’m glad I went,” he says, half to convince himself it’s true. “I just didn’t… Voldemort hurt my relatives, and I let him.”

“Good,” Nagini says as she climbs up beside him, and Harry is surprised by the response, though he probably shouldn’t be. “You are young, yet. My Master will fight for you until you can fight for yourself.”

“But that’s just it,” Harry tells her, “I didn’t need to fight.” And it’s true. They couldn’t have hurt him, not with Voldemort there. He wasn’t defending himself, because he was in no danger.

“They hurt you.”

“Yes.” He strokes the scales above her eyes. “I didn’t have to hurt them back.”

Nagini hisses in disapproval. “You must bite the ones who hurt you,” she tells him, draping her heavy coils over him. He relaxes against her bulk. “How else will they learn?”

And, well… That, Harry doesn’t know how to answer. Because if Voldemort hadn’t been there… He rolls over as best as he can beneath her weight, burying his face in his pillows. He doesn’t know what to think.

He doesn’t want to think at all.

He’s only been with Voldemort for a day, and he thinks he could sleep for a year.

 

He’s been living with Voldemort for a week, and the man has settled into a routine that consists of locking himself away for hours at a time and occasionally disappearing for even longer. He doesn’t seem to care much about how Harry fills his days, and as far as Harry is concerned, this is just fine.

The less time he spends around the man, the better.

When he isn’t working on his homework (which he only does when Voldemort isn’t around to catch him, because he will be going to Hogwarts in September, and so there’s no use baiting the man into telling him otherwise) or entertaining Nagini, he’s taken to escaping into the garden with Mr. Bryce. The man is funny, in a rude sort of way, and he’s full of stories that are excellent for passing time.

And then one day, he gives Harry an idea. “—I got all the way to London ‘fore they caught up to me,” the old gardener is saying, chuckling to himself as he prunes the hedges. “I’m not sure who was more surprised, myself or my mum.”

“You ran away?” Harry asks, sitting up from where he’s been lying in the grass.

“Sure did. In fact—“ He carries on, but Harry has stopped listening.

He looks down toward the village, gaze following the main road as it stretches into the fields beyond, disappearing into the distance—toward London. Toward freedom.

He grins.

 

Nearly an hour later, he’s trudging his way back up the hill, a wrapped bundle of freshly baked bread tucked under one arm—forced into his hands by a concerned Muggle woman who wouldn’t let him out of her sight until he promised to go straight back home (whatever that even means, now). Mr. Bryce, who’s started working on one of the flowerbeds since he left, sits back on his heels when he catches sight of him, wiping at his forehead. “Everything alright, lad?” he calls.

“Yeah.” He digs through the bundle, grabbing a small loaf of sourdough and offering it up to the man. He decides it’s probably a bad idea to tell him he’s returning from a failed attempt at running away. “I was just down in the village.”

Mr. Bryce takes the loaf, breaking it in half and lifting a piece to his nose, inhaling deeply. “I see you met Lin,” he says, tearing off a chunk with his teeth. “She’s a good sort, unlike the rest of that superstitious lot.” He pauses, looking him over like he’s checking him for injuries. “I don’t suppose you had the mind not to tell ‘em where you live?”

Harry shrugs. “They seemed fine.”

“Hmph.” Mr. Bryce takes another bite. “Sure they are, up until they all turn on you.” Catching sight of Harry’s wide eyes, he softens as much as he ever does and waves him off. “Thanks for the bread, lad. Now get back up there ‘fore your da notices you left.”

Harry flushes, caught.

He hurries up the rest of the hill, Mr. Bryce’s cackling laugh following him up the path.

 

Voldemort is waiting for him in the entryway.

Harry freezes, holding the bread to his chest like it might protect him when his scar burns. “Good afternoon, Harry,” Voldemort says dryly, eyeing the wrapped bundle. “I see you’ve been busy.” When Harry has nothing to say for himself, he jerks his head for Harry to follow and stalks up the stairs. Harry ghosts after him, making as little noise as possible. “In,” Voldemort snaps, opening the door to his study.

“Do you want some bread?” Harry asks as the door slams shut behind him and Voldemort storms past him to the desk, figuring it’s best to head the man off. He’s always worse when he gets the first word in. “It’s really good.”

Voldemort pins him with a dark stare, arms crossed as he leans back against his desk. Unfortunately for him, Harry finds it difficult to be intimidated. Mostly. Maybe. “What I want,” he says after enough time has passed that Harry begins fidgeting with the package’s wrapping, “is to understand what, exactly, you were thinking.”

“Sorry?”

“Oh, you will be.” He summons the bread from Harry’s hands, inspecting it briefly before tossing it to a nearby chair, ignoring Harry’s noise of protest. “I gave you one rule.”

“Okay, but—“

“One. Rule.” He shoves away from the desk and strides closer, looming. “Tell me, Harry. What is that rule?”

Harry doesn’t duck his head, doesn’t make himself smaller, but he wants to. “Don’t leave the wards,” he says, glaring at Voldemort’s chest instead of meeting his gaze.

“And what did you do?”

“I…” His shoulder slump. “I left the wards.”

“Would you like to tell me why?” Voldemort asks, though Harry knows it’s more of an order than a question. He opens his mouth to lie when Voldemort stops him. “The truth, if you will.”

He huffs, sticking his hands in his pockets. “I was…leaving.”

“Leaving,” Voldemort says slowly. “I see. Leaving where?”

“I don’t know.” He resents being spoken to like he’s a child, like he’s just done something stupid. He doesn’t care that it might be true. “London.”

“You were going to walk to London,” Voldemort says dryly.

Harry bristles at his tone. “Well I wouldn’t have to,” he bites out, “but you took my broom, see. I didn’t have much choice.”

Voldemort’s cold hand grips his chin, forcing his head up, forcing him to meet his gaze. Harry thinks about biting him before he decides it probably wouldn’t do any good. “I recognize that you are…stressed by your change in circumstances, but I will not tolerate disrespect,” Voldemort tells him. Harry rolls his eyes, and nails dig into his face, making him wince. “I don’t think you quite understand your situation, Harry.”

Unable to stand the man’s hand on him any longer, Harry wrenches free, hissing when his nails leave lines of heat across his cheeks. “I understand perfectly—“

But Voldemort isn’t listening. He’s staring, eyes wide, at Harry's face. “Harry—“

“What?” Harry snaps, wiping angrily at his cheek. There’s blood on his hand when he pulls it away, and he stares down at it, surprised.

Too quick to stop, Voldemort takes hold of his face again, and Harry stills, holding his breath. With a brush of his thumb, the stinging pain disappears. He says, more hesitant than Harry has ever heard him before, “I…I regret—“

Harry rears back, eyes wide in disbelief.

His heart is beating so quickly in his chest, he thinks it might burst. “You—regret?” he says, incredulous. “Regret what? Scratching me? Are you fucking kidding me?” He shoves at Voldemort’s chest, and the man staggers away from him, surprised. It sends a sick jolt of satisfaction through him, seeing him stumble. “After everything—you regret this?” He gestures wildly to his face.

“Harry,” Voldemort warns, eyes narrowing.

“Shut up!” He buries his face in his hands, and he laughs, and the stinging in his eyes only makes him angrier. “Shut up! I hate you!” His hands move to his hair, tearing at the strands, digging into his scalp. “You regret scratching me? You killed my—“

“I know what I’ve done,” Voldemort snarls, grabbing Harry’s wrists and forcing them away from his face. “But I am your guardian, now, because of a spell you cast—“

“To protect me from you!” Harry cries. He tries and fails to jerk free of Voldemort’s hold, to get his hands off of him.

“—so you will do as I say!”

“I WON’T,” Harry shouts. He throws himself backward, and Voldemort’s eyes widen as he’s pulled nearly off his feet. “LET GO OF ME!”

“You are behaving like a child,” Voldemort tells him, forcing Harry to the floor and pinning his flailing arms, grunting when Harry kicks him in the stomach.

And Harry feels like something terrible—something barely human—as he thrashes in Voldemort’s iron grip, trying to free his hands long enough to claw at his face, trying to twist away. His chest heaves with every breath he takes, and there’s a scream building there, deep between his lungs; he doesn’t dare let it out because if he does, it won’t ever end. He blinks, and tears spill down his face, and he doesn’t know how to stop them, and he hates it—hates that Voldemort gets to see him cry. Gets to hold him down and yell at him and lock him away.

He doesn’t want to do this anymore.

He stops fighting, collapses flat to the floor. He’s so tired. He looks up into Voldemort’s snarling face, watches the rage fade into surprise, then discomfort, maybe, or something like it. One hand releases his wrist to touch his cheek instead, catching a tear on the pad of his thumb. “I…”

Harry turns his head, presses his wet cheek against the cool wood floor.

“Shut up,” he says, and his voice shakes—and he hates that too. He squeezes his eyes shut because the feeling of tears leaking out of the corners is better than seeing Voldemort’s face. “It’s not—I was supposed to have—to have someone who…” He takes a shuddering breath, tries to ignore the weight of Voldemort’s gaze. “You took them from me, and now you—you’re here instead—and it’s not—” He tries to remind himself that he started out angry, tries to get that anger back instead of this awful pit sitting in his chest. “They loved me,” he says, because it’s true and because…because it hurts, and he needs Voldemort to know, to understand what he stole from him that night. “And now they’re gone because—“

Voldemort says, “Because I killed them."

“Because you killed them,” Harry echoes. And the next words that come out of mouth are stupid, he knows. Stupid and weak and embarrassing, but—“It’s not fair.”

For a moment, he wonders if Voldemort even heard him. Then, “Isn’t it?”

Harry swallows thickly, fights the sting in his chest, in his eyes, enough to meet Voldemort’s gaze head on when he asks, “Do you regret it?”

Voldemort doesn’t insult him by asking what he means. “Yes,” he says eventually, and his face is utterly blank. “And no. I regret the years I spent as a wraith. I regret the loss of power.”

“But not…”

“No.”

Right, Harry thinks. Of course. He expected…well. He’s not entirely sure what he expected. The weight on his arms disappears as Voldemort sits back on his heels, staring down at him like he expects him to start crying again.

But he doesn’t cry.

He just keeps breathing, and he doesn’t feel anything at all.

 

For almost two full weeks, he doesn’t get another chance to run. Voldemort is too careful, keeping close watch whenever he’s around—like he thinks Harry might break something, might break himself—and ordering Nagini to follow him whenever he vanishes without explanation again. His only refuge from their nagging is the time he spends outside with Mr. Bryce; neither of them is willing to suffer a Muggle’s company for long. It helps that the man doesn’t mind listening to him complain about his new guardian.

It’s nice, he thinks, to have an audience other than the snake who’s been the man’s loyal companion for over a decade.

“He’s awful.”

“Ach.” Mr. Bryce waves a dismissive hand at him, sending clumps of dirt flying through the air off his glove. Harry ducks out of the way, grimacing when some hits his face. “Most fathers are. Yours is new, that’s all; just give it time.”

And—Oh, Harry thinks, right. He’d forgotten about the story he told, that first day. He tilts his head, considering, then says, “He killed my parents.”

The old man pauses his work, eyes Harry like he suspects he might be joking. “You sure you don’t need some help, lad?” he asks. He sits back on his heels. “Myself and the law don’t get on much, not since the Riddle murders, but if you need anything, I’ll do my best to get it to you.”

“Thanks, Mr. Bryce,” Harry says, warmed by the offer, knowing it’s meaningless but appreciating it anyway. “But there’s really not much the police can do.”

“Hm. If you say so.”

“I do say so.” As he says it, he watches a blank look pass over the old man’s face; then he shakes his head and returns to gardening, like the last few minutes never happened. It’s not the first time Harry’s seen that look on his face, but it is the first time he’s stopped to think about what it means. With a thoughtful frown, he says, “I think I’m going to head in.”

“I’ll probably do the same myself, soon,” Mr. Bryce tells him, looking up to the sky. He waves as Harry pushes himself to his feet and strides back toward the house. “Have a good talk with your da, now!”

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry calls over his shoulder, “I’ll, erm… I’ll do my best.”

He finds Voldemort in study—he doesn’t bother looking anywhere else.

As the door slams open against the wall—Voldemort doesn’t even flinch, the arsehole—he says, “You put a spell on Mr. Bryce.”

Voldemort hums, not bothering to look up from whatever he’s writing on his parchment. “I have, yes.”

“Why?” he demands.

“Would you prefer the alternative?”

Harry hesitates, not sure he wants to know. “The alternative being…”

Voldemort sets down his quill, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers together over his stomach. He says, entirely too pleasant, “Death.”

“Oh.” Of course.

“This way,” Voldemort continues on, watching Harry with a familiar, amused glint in his eyes—the one that makes Harry want to act out on principle lately, “that...Muggle can’t put us at risk, and I don’t have to offend those delicate sensibilities of yours to defend us.”

Harry’s mouth drops open in offense. “My sensibilities are not delicate,” he says hotly.

“No?” Voldemort raises his brow. “Then I suppose you wouldn’t mind if I killed him after all. Or perhaps we could let Nagini have a go; she’s missed hunting large prey.”

Harry stares, appalled beyond words.

Somehow, he still manages to…forget, almost, how awful Voldemort is. “Why are you so—ugh!” Harry turns on his heel and storms out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him. Voldemort’s glee follows with him, a tingling in his scar. He isn’t sure who he’s more mad at, Voldemort for being terrible or himself for forgetting.

Nagini noses her way into his room later that afternoon. “Master says it’s time to eat.”

“Your master can go fuck himself.”

Nagini rears up, staring in what would no doubt be disapproval if she could make such a face. “You must eat, hatchling, no matter your conflict.

“But he’s awful.”

If snakes could laugh, she would. “He says the same of you.”

“Whatever,” Harry mutters into his arms. He turns his head, watches her coil beside him and reaches out to stroke along the top of her head. “You’re my favorite.”

She preens. “As I should be.”

“Well.” Harry grins. “It’s not saying that much, really. There’s only two of you. Take Voldemort out of the running for being the literal worst, and you’re the only option left.”

“But also, I am not terrible.”

“You’re a little terrible,” Harry corrects. He laughs when she lets out an offended hiss. “But you’re getting better.”

“Master says I’m being corrupted.”

“Your master could stand to be corrupted himself.

“On that, hatchling,” she says, settling in beside him, “we have agreed longer than you know.”

 

Three days later, Voldemort finally catches him working on his homework. “You’re wasting your time,” he informs him, leaning in the doorway.

Harry doesn’t look up from his desk he dragged in from one of the rooms down the hall.  “I’m learning,” he says as he carefully writes the next line of his essay, making sure he leaves no blotches of ink behind. “I’d hardly call that a waste.”

Voldemort scoffs, then pushes away from the doorway. Harry doesn’t look up, not even when a shadow falls over his new desk. “If you wanted to fill your days so badly, you should have come to me.”

“Right, because you’ve always been so friendly and approachable.”

Ignoring him, the man lifts one of Harry’s books by the corner, holding it up like it’s the corpse of some small, dead animal. “I could teach you much better than… this.”

Harry snatches it back, shoving it into his bag beneath his desk, safely out of reach. “It’s not about—I don’t care if you’re the best teacher in the whole world. I’m going back to Hogwarts.” He ducks his head so Voldemort can’t see how much he means it when he adds, “I want to see my friends.”

“Ah, yes. Your…friends.”

Harry jerks his head back up. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You won’t be seeing them again, not until you’ve learned there are better avenues to focus your efforts.”

“Better—?” Harry sputters. “You’re just mad because they helped me beat you!”

“You did not beat me—“

“Yes, we did.” He tosses down his quill so he can stand, shoving his chair back with his hands clenched at his sides. “We got the stone. We stopped your basilisk. We beat you.”

Voldemort plants his hands on the desk, leaning in, looming over him. “Well, then. Since you’ve so soundly proven yourselves my enemies… Tell me, why should I not hunt them down, drag them before you, and end them where they stand?”

“Because if you do, I’ll kill you,” Harry says, and he’s frightened by how much he means it. But he doesn’t take it back. “Because you can’t hurt me, but I can hurt you.”

For a long moment Voldemort doesn’t react to the threat, then he laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard. “Oh, Harry,” he says through laughter, shaking his head, eyes glittering in amusement. He leans in, practically daring Harry to do something when he says, dripping scorn, “I would love to see you try.”

And he's shaking, Harry realizes; his heart is pounding like a drum, too quick, too heavy, as heat floods his chest. His hand lands on the knife he uses to sharpen his quills. He blinks, and the knife is sticking out of Voldemort’s arm through his shirt, his hand still clutching the handle.

Ah, the thinks. Then: fuck.

Voldemort has stopped laughing.

Harry slowly lets go of the knife, flexing his hand. There’s blood on Voldemort’s shirt, but not much. He says, gaze trained on the knife and absolutely refusing to feel bad for it, “You deserved that.”

Voldemort straightens slowly, twists his arm to get a better look and says, “I suppose I did ask for it.” He grips the knife and pulls it free; Harry watches, refusing to look away. Voldemort hums as he considers it, light catching the blade as he twirls it carelessly over his fingers. “Although, I must admit, I didn’t expect you to use a knife.”

He flips it, offers it to Harry handle first.

There’s still blood on the blade, and now on Voldemort’s pale hand. Harry takes it carefully. “What did you expect?”

“You do seem very fond of kicking me.”

Harry scowls, thinks of stabbing him again. Like he can read the thought in his glare, Voldemort grins, an amused light back in his eyes. “You’re very strange," Harry tells him.

“Says the child who stabbed me.”

Harry huffs, pointedly dropping the knife to his desk. Then—“You’re not mad?” he asks, because he feels like it’s a good idea to make sure

“Mad?” Voldemort asks, sounding surprised. He trails one finger over the wound, and it closes easily. That, more than the wound itself, makes Harry shudder. “Not at all. Of course, going for the throat would have been more effective, but that sort of thing can be taught.”

Harry just stares.

“I don’t think I want to be taught that, actually,” he says eventually.

“No?” Voldemort raises his brows. “How else will you lean to kill—”

“I don’t want to kill anybody!”

“You just stabbed me.” Voldemort tilts his head, considering him. “You have a very odd way of showing it.” Then he says with a careless wave of his hand, “If you must, you can think of it as self defense.”

Harry doesn’t want to think of it at all, and he says so, collapsing back into his chair and planting his face on the desk.

Voldemort’s hand falls to his shoulder, squeezing in an attempt at comfort. It’s not a very good one, especially when he opens him mouth. “Chin up, Harry,” he says, and he sounds pleased, “I have so much to teach you.”

Chapter Text

Harry decides he won’t be giving Voldemort the chance to teach him anything. Ever.

Which is why, the next time Voldemort leaves for one of his mysterious meetings, he tucks his wand in his pocket and sets off down the hill. He can’t stay in this house any longer. It’s driving him to…to something, and he doesn’t like it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t manage to escape Nagini, and she insists on following him. “You didn’t have to come,” he says when she complains for the seventh time about his inability to carry her.

“Yes, I did,” she tells him, sulking. “You are small, hatchling. You need someone to keep you safe.”

Rolling his eyes, Harry presses on, ignoring her whinging. Eventually, the village gives way entirely to fields, dotted with the odd tree. He should come out here more often; that is, if he can convince Voldemort to be less of a dick. Except he won’t be doing that, he reminds himself sternly, because he’s leaving. It doesn’t matter that this has been the best summer he’s ever had—that Nagini is his friend, and Mr. Bryce is kind to him, and Voldemort is…is occasionally something approaching alright—because Voldemort is evil. And he probably wants to turn Harry evil too, and it might even be working.

He stabbed Voldemort yesterday.

Aside from the diary, he’s never stabbed anyone, and he’s never wanted to. He’s never wanted to hurt anyone—except his cousin, and his uncle, and…he shakes his head, scowling. Because that’s different, right? But in that moment, he wanted nothing more than to make Voldemort hurt the way he hurt. To make him afraid of him the way Harry is afraid, because. Because he is afraid, he’s just gotten used to it. 

And…in his pocket, his hand curls around the handle of a knife.

He found it in a box on his bedside table this morning—it’s a real knife, not the sort you can buy with any set of quills. Instead of recoiling, instead of leaving it there, he took it with him.

And now he can’t stop wondering what it means that he has.

He doesn’t like it.

He doesn’t know how to fix it.

Worst of all… Maybe he’s always been this way. Maybe there’s nothing to fix.

After nearly an hour of walking and worrying, he abandons the road to collapse in the shade beneath a gnarled tree. His mouth is dry, and he’s starting to feel hungry again. “So, maybe this was a mistake,” he admits when Nagini rests her head on his knee. “We should probably—" He cuts off, hissing and pressing his hand to his scar.

Too late.

With a sharp crack, Voldemort appears in the road.

Harry scrambles back, just barely getting to his feet before Voldemort is on him, one fist gripping his shirt and lifting him back against the tree, until his toes are just barely brushing the ground. “Tell me, Harry,” he says, voice soft for all that the looks like he wants to strangle him, “what is it about ‘I will always find you’ that you don’t understand?”

Harry clutches at the hand holding him, eyes wide. “I didn’t think—“

“Obviously.”

Face flushing, he spits, “I hate you.”

“I’m aware.” Voldemort releases him, and he drops to his feet, scrambling for his wand. “We are at an impasse. You are my ward; it is my duty to see you safe. But I cannot do that when you are fighting me at every turn!”

“Well maybe,” Harry says, his wand clutched in his fist, “I wouldn’t fight you if you weren’t so fucking evil all the time!”

“Evil,” Voldemort echoes, bowing his head. He laughs, surprising Harry enough that he falters. “Spoken like a true child.”

Harry bristles, offended. “I’m not—“

“Shut up.”

Harry blinks, raising one hand to his throat. He tries to speak, glaring when nothing comes out but his breath. Voldemort raises his brows. “I should have done that sooner,” he says, then rolls his eyes when Harry makes a rude gesture. “You aren’t helping yourself, but by all means, continue to prove me right.” He stops to take a breath, then lets it out slowly and begins again. “You are twelve years old.”

Thirteen, Harry thinks spitefully.

“You are, by every definition, a child. I realize this is—“ His eyes cut to Nagini, who’s watching their conversation with her hood flared. “I realize this is…difficult…for you, and I have not made it easier.”

Harry’s grip on his wand slackens in surprise.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Voldemort snaps. “You’re still a weak, pathetic creature. I have no interest in caring about you beyond ensuring your death. Unfortunately, you have given me no choice, and we will simply have to bear it.” He pins Harry with a glare. “Both of us, which means when I act as your guardian, you will listen.”

Harry crosses his arms, scowling.

He feels the spell on his throat lift. “You killed my parents,” he says immediately.

Voldemort looks up to the sky, like he’s barely refraining from rolling his eyes. “Are you going to bring that up every time?”

“Yes,” Harry tells him. Also—“Fuck you.”

Voldemort’s hand shoots for him again, and Harry throws himself backward, raising his wand and thinking only of getting away, when—BANG. He flinches so hard he almost drops his wand as a triple-decker bus, violently purple in color, screeches to a stop on the road beside them.

Harry gapes at it, all anger at Voldemort forgotten.

Once the bus settles, the door creaks open, and a conductor in a purple uniform leaps out. Harry wonders if he’s hallucinating. “Welcome to the Knight Bus,” the man says loudly, “emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard; just stick out your wand hand—“

Harry perks up, listening intently. Emergency—?

“Enough,” Voldemort interrupts with a sneer, pushing in front of Harry and looming over the man—who’s not so much as man as a teenager, Harry notices, likely only a few years older than he is. He peers around Voldemort’s arm to get a better look. “Your services aren’t needed here.”

The conductor stops, offended. “Then what’d you call us for?” he demands.

“I did not call you here.”

Harry pushes Voldemort aside. “I did! Can you take me to—ghk.”

Voldemort’s hand covers his mouth. “Ignore him,” he says. Harry elbows him, but Voldemort just grunts and tightens his hold, until it’s almost painful. “He’s never summoned the Knight Bus before; I assure you, it was an accident.”

“I dunno, sir,” the conductor says, bending closer so he can get a better look at Harry, who’s staring at him with pleading eyes. “‘E looks like ‘e wants to go.”

“He’s twelve,” Voldemort says dryly.

Harry bites his hand, and when Voldemort draws back with a muttered curse, he says, “I’m thirteen.”

Voldemort pinches the bridge of his nose. “He’s my—I’m his…guardian.”

The conductor still looks skeptical. “You sure about that, sir?”

“Tell him,” Voldemort says. He bends down and says, just for Harry to hear, “Or I will.”

“It’s true,” Harry blurts, because he trusts Voldemort’s ability to kill a random teenager without connecting it to his potential return. He doesn’t want to risk it. “I was just…trying to run away from home, I guess.”

At that, the conductor laughs, relaxing. “Ah, well,” he says, “better luck next time, kid. Want us to drop you two off before we go?” He looks around, curious. “Where are we, anyway?”

“That won’t be necessary.”

The conductor looks taken aback by the abrupt answer before surging it off. “If you say so.” He hops back onto the bus, sticking his head out just long enough to say, “See you around!” Then the door snaps shut, and the bus is off again. Harry stares after it, blinking when it disappears with another bang and a flash of light so bright it's almost blinding.

He looks down at his wand. Maybe… Before the thought can fully form, Voldemort snatches the wand from his hand.

“Hey!”

“I’m confiscating this,” Voldemort tells him, holding it higher when Harry all but climbs him in an attempt to grab it again. “You can have it back when I trust you not to do anything stupid.”

“But—“

“Nagini,” Voldemort calls. As she presses her head into his palm, he grabs Harry by the arm and, with a crack, they’re back at the wardline. Harry staggers away from him, one hand pressed to his stomach.

“I hate you,” he says with a groan.

Voldemort scoffs, knocking into him as he strides up the hill toward the house. He says over his shoulder, “It’s mutual.”

 

By the time his Hogwarts letter is delivered, Voldemort still hasn’t given his wand back. As the school owl wings away, Harry stomps his way into the dining room, letter clutched in his hand. “Why hasn’t anyone found us?” he asks, brandishing the letter and its address for Voldemort to see.

When he tries to grab it, Harry jumps back out of reach, tightening his hold when he feels a tug of magic on the parchment. Voldemort glares, features pinched with annoyance as he settles back in his chair. “The letters are addressed automatically, in bulk. Unless someone was willing to pick through every single letter to check, no one would notice your change of address.”

Huh. That explains…a lot, actually.

“Whatever you did to the Dursleys, you made sure they wouldn’t be able to tell anyone, didn’t you.”

Voldemort looks at him like he’s stupid. “Of course.”

“So no one knows I’m here.”

“That is correct.”

Harry’s shoulders slump. “I’d hoped…”

“I know you did, Harry,” he says, and he actually sounds sympathetic. Then he ruins it. “You might as well give that up now. It’ll make this much easier for you.”

Harry scowls. “Why are you always so awful all the time?”

“Because I can be.” Voldemort stands and, too quick for Harry to avoid, snatches the letter from his hand. “Now go bother someone else, and take Nagini with you. She’s getting bored.” That said, he swans out of the room, leaving Harry to stare after him.

“She’s bored,” he mocks under his breath, kicking at the leg of the table. “Well, so am I, arsehole.”

Still, he heads out into the garden as ordered—because he was going to do that anyway, he thinks with a scowl. At the very least, Nagini is sure to be a far more sympathetic audience than the Dark Lord.

 

His Hogwarts letter continues to haunt him.

Voldemort notices—because of course he does, but instead of saying anything, he simply makes sure he’s always in the house whenever Harry is awake, stopping any attempt of Harry’s to retrieve it (and his wand) before it can begin. Until, finally, the day before the train is supposed to leave London, he sits Harry down in his study. “I am leaving,” he says, pinning him with his dark stare. “I will return late this afternoon. If I find anything out of place when I return, I will kill you.”

“No you won’t,” Harry says, arms crossed over his chest as he slumps back in his chair.

Voldemort’s jaw flexes. He amends his threat. “By the time I’m finished, you’ll wish I would.”

“Jokes on you, dad,” Harry says, grinning with false cheer. “I already do.”

Before Voldemort can say anything suitably cutting in response, Nagini nudges her nose against his cheek. “I will watch the hatchling,” she tells him.

Voldemort pinches the bridge of his nose. “Last time he decided to run, you went with him. You were supposed to keep him here.”

“Yes, but that was last time.”

“So, if he tries again, you’ll stop him?”

Nagini hesitates. “…Yes.”

“Why am I not convinced?” Voldemort asks dryly.

Feeling unhelpful, Harry chimes in, “Because you have trust issues.”

Voldemort glares at him again. “Swear to me you’ll remain in the house.”

“No.”

Voldemort lets out an aggrieved hiss, then says, “See, Nagini—”

“The hatchling will behave,” she interrupts, ignoring the expression on Voldemort’s face that, on anyone else, might be considered sulking. “He is learning, that’s all.”

Voldemort looks unconvinced, but eventually, finally, he relents. “If I come back and he’s gone, I’m disowning you,” he tells her. Then, ignoring her hissed protest, he deposits her onto Harry’s lap and stalks out the door.

Harry strokes her scales, listening for the door.

When he finally hears it slam shut, he nudges her to the floor and says, “C’mon, then. I saw a bunch of rabbits when I was in the garden yesterday. I bet they’re still there.”

 

Before long, Nagini falls asleep, lulled by the heat of the sun pooling through the open window and the food in her belly. Harry slowly pushes himself to his knees, then his feet, watching to make sure she doesn’t notice. When she doesn’t even twitch, he backs out of the room on light feet and creeps up the stairs to Voldemort’s study. He peers inside, then tip toes to the desk, listening to make sure he hasn’t come back early to catch him. He didn’t see the man leave his wand here, but he doesn’t know where else in the house it could be.

There’s only one drawer that’s locked with magic, and he’s certain that’s where it’s got to be.

In the end, it takes a smear of blood on the drawer’s handle—a trick he learned from one of the books Voldemort has started leaving out for him, which he swears to himself he only reads because he's so bored all the time. It feels odd, casting magic this way, but it’s worth it in the end.

He takes his wand from the drawer, sighing in relief when a shower of sparks falls harmlessly to the floor.

It feels good, holding it again.

Then he remembers he took it back for a reason, and he slides the drawer shut. He won’t be able to lock it again, but hopefully by the time Voldemort notices, he’ll be long gone. After sneaking back down the stairs, he looks both ways for Nagini then darts out the front door, racing down the hill. The moment he gets to the road, he stumbles to a stop and looks around, checking for Muggles. No one. Good. He lifts his wand, thinks of going away, and—

BANG.

The Knight Bus screeches to a halt in front of him, and the teenager from before greets him as he hops out. “Oh, hello!” he says, not bothering with his script this time. “Runnin’ away again?”

Harry nods, digging through his pockets for the money he brought. “How much to get to Diagon Alley?”

“Eleven sickles,” the conductor says. “We’ve got more pricing options when you ride at night.” Harry nods, stepping up to the door. The conductor sticks his arm out to stop him. “Now, hold on,” he says, squinting in suspicion. “If I let you on, am I gonna get in trouble with your da?”

“No,” Harry lies.

The teenager doesn’t look convinced, but says, “If you say so.” Then he lets Harry on, accepting his money. “The name’s Stan, by the way. Stan Shunpike.”

“Nice to meet you, Stan,” Harry says as he picks a seat by the door. “My name’s Harry.”

“Jus’ Harry?”

He grins. “Just Harry.”

 

Harry and three others get off the bus just outside the Leaky Cauldron, and he waves to Stan as he goes.

As the door to the pub shuts behind him, he ducks his head, listening to make sure no one notices him. He’s just about made it through when he hears someone say his name, and he turns his head just enough to see a pack of redheads talking to the barkeep. “—sure you haven’t seen him?” Mr. Weasley is asking, and he sounds worried. Percy and the twins are with him, though they’re arguing instead of paying attention to their dad. “It’s the day before term. He must’ve come through for his supplies by now.”

Before Mr. Weasley can harass the poor man any further, Harry trots over. “Mr. Weasley!” he says, and the man flinches as he appears at his elbow.

Then the man gets a look at him, and he relaxes. “Thank Merlin,” he says, one hand pressed over his heart. “I was just thinking we might need to pay those Muggles of yours a visit.”

Harry almost wishes he had, because then they’d have realized he’d been taken.

“Well, I’m here now.” He looks around, ducking the twins’ hands as they attempt to ruffle his hair in greeting. “Where’s Ron?”

“In the Alley with Hermione,” Mr. Weasley tells him gesturing toward the back entrance. “Shall we?” That said, he waves apologetically at the barkeep and ushers Harry out behind the pub and through to Diagon Alley, Percy and the twins on their heels. As they pass, the twins stop just long enough to clap him on the shoulder and congratulate him for worrying everyone before they disappear into the crowd. Percy stomps after them in a huff.

“Ah, there they are.” Mr. Weasley points to Flourish and Blotts, where Ron and Hermione have just left the store.

Seeing them is like stepping out into the sunlight, like relief. Something settles, deep in his chest, to see them smiling and safe and so close. “Thanks, Mr. Weasley!” Harry says, and then he runs off to join them before the man can ask him any questions about his summer.

 

“HARRY!” Hermione waves as soon as she sees him, stretching onto her toes. Harry doesn’t even hesitate before rocketing into her arms, pressing his face into her hair. He hears Ron laugh and reaches blindly to tug him in too.

“I missed you,” he says, voice muffled.

“We’re blocking the doorway,” Ron answers, and Harry laughs, rubbing his eyes as they stagger off to the side together. When they’ve all calmed down, he says, “We were worried you wouldn’t make it! Fred and George were ready to floo to the Dursleys themselves, but Mum put a stop to that right away.”

“I wasn’t there, anyway, so it wouldn’t have done much good.”

“You weren’t there?” Hermione frowns. “But no one saw you in the alley all summer…”

“I know.” Harry peers around, making sure no one is listening in. “Remember that spell we used…?”

Hermione gasps. “It worked?”

He nods. “That’s why it took me so long to get here. He says I’m not going back to Hogwarts this year, and he took my letter, but—“

“Not going to Hogwarts?” Hermione exchanges a frown with Ron. “Harry, who exactly are you staying with?”

“Can I tell you once we’re finished shopping?" Harry asks with his best pleading expression. "Only, I want to make sure I get all my things before he comes to take me back.”

“Sure, mate,” Ron says, though he still looks worried. He digs through the pockets of his robe. “We’re in the same classes, so you can use my list.”

Harry grins. “Thanks.”

“Ron and I were just about to head over to Slug and Jiggers," Hermione tells him. "Do you want us to grab you a kit while you get your books?” Harry happily accepts, handing over a few galleons before watching them depart. With one last look around the alley, feeling happy beyond words to be back, he steps inside the bookshop.

They meet up again outside Slug and Jiggers, and Hermione hands back his spare change as he tucks the potions materials in with his books, which the cashier charmed weightless for him. They spend the rest of the morning picking up anything else they think they might need during the upcoming year, and as the lunch hour approaches, Harry can feel the nervous looks Ron and Hermione sending him growing more frequent.

Eventually, he stops and sighs. “Shall we get lunch, then?”

Ron and Hermione nod, each grabbing one of his arms and dragging him to the café beside Florean Fortescue’s. After ordering, Harry ushers them to a table in the corner of the room, sitting so he can keep an eye on the door, a part of him expecting Voldemort to walk in at any moment.

“Stay calm, okay?” is the first thing he says once they’re settled.

Ron frowns. Hermione already looks disapproving. “Okay.”

“Alright, well. First, I thought my guardian was this snake—“

“A snake?” Ron yelps.

“We did find the spell in the Chamber of Secrets,” Hermione points out.

“Really? I’ve barely started.”

Ron flushes. “Sorry, Harry.”

“Please continue,” Hermione says, crossing her hands on the table as she leans in.

Harry snorts, then begins again. “A snake found me in the park one day, but I only learned later that she wasn’t my guardian. My guardian was actually the person possessing her…” He looks around to make sure no one is paying them any attention, then leans in and whispers, “Voldemort.”

“WHAT!” Hermione shrieks.

“Hermione,” Harry hisses, pressing his palm to her mouth. “Shh!”

“Harry,” Ron says, and he looks pale, like he might pass out. “That’s insane.”

“I know. But it’s true, I swear!”

Hermione pries his hand away. “You’ve been living with bloody You-Know-Who?”

Harry blinks, surprised by her swearing. Then he nods. “Apparently, the spell makes it so he can’t hurt me. It makes him want to keep me safe, too. That’s why he didn’t want me back at Hogwarts.”

“Then how are you here?”

“I snuck out while he was gone and took the Knight Bus.”

Hermione lets out a noise that’s astonishingly similar to a whistling tea kettle. “You what?

“Wicked!” Ron says at the same time. “We never have to go anywhere we can’t floo to, so I’ve never used it, but Fred and George snuck on it once. They said it goes so fast that the Muggles can’t even see it!”

“I’m sure this is all very fascinating,” Hermione says shrilly, “but can we please get back to the part about Harry running away from You-Know-Who?” She leans closer across the table, practically out of her seat by now. “What if he notices!”

“Er, well. He says the spell makes it so he can always find me—“

“Makes sense,” Ron says with a nod.

“—so I expect he’ll notice as soon as he gets home. But this time, you two will know where I’ve gone, so you can help!”

“Where is home, anyway?” Ron asks. “I bet he lives in a cave. Or—or a crypt!”

“He has a house.”

Even Hermione looks intrigued by that piece of information. “Does he really? Where?” she asks. Then she shakes her head violently. “Wait, no! We were talking about You-Know-Who and the fact that you’ve decided to run away from him! Do you think he’ll come here?” She looks over her shoulder, like she might see him.

“Probably.”

“You're entirely too calm about that,” Ron tells him.

“Okay, look,” Harry says with a sigh, “I’ve made him mad loads of times, but he hasn’t done much more than yell at me. I think the thing about the spell keeping me safe is true.”

“Alright,” Ron says, “but what about the rest of us?”

Harry hesitates. “Well…”

Hermione drops her head to the table. “Oh my god.”

“Look, I know it’s dangerous, but I had to come! He wouldn’t have let me, otherwise, and it’s not like I could send Hedwig for help. He cast some sort of spell to keep her near the house as soon as she arrived.”

Harry,” Hermione says in despair, tugging at her curls.

“It’ll be fine. If he does show up, I’ll just—“

A shadow falls over the table. Harry looks up with a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Don’t stop on my account,” Voldemort says, and he looks more murderous than he has in weeks. “Tell us, Harry, what will you do?”

 

“And you’re certain he doesn’t hurt you?” Hermione asks later, still tense after nearly half an hour of sitting at a table with Lord Voldemort.

Harry nods. He’s pressed nearly flat against the wall, because Voldemort shoved himself into the booth beside him when he realized it would cause too much of a scene to kidnap the Boy-Who-Lived in broad daylight. “He’s awful, but he doesn’t really hurt me. He even makes sure I eat and stuff.”

“Then… Maybe this is a good thing.” She still won’t look at Voldemort. “You’ve always hated the Dursleys…”

Harry, who’s been thinking the same thing since almost the same day Voldemort took him, bristles at hearing it said aloud. “He killed my parents. He’s evil.”

Ron finally looks up from where he’s been studying the table, eyes narrowed in thought. “What’s he done since he took you, though?”

“I am. Right. Here,” Voldemort says through gritted teeth.

Ron takes a deep breath and meets his gaze head on. “What’ve you been doing since you kidnapped him?”

“Nothing that is even remotely the business of children.”

“Harry’s my business,” Ron says, jerking his chin in the air, though it doesn’t quite hide the way he’s shaking.

“Harry is fine.”

Tired of all of this, Harry says, “Harry would like to go to Hogwarts with his friends.”

Voldemort doesn’t even look at him. “No.”

“Then I’ll run away again.”

Fury is seeping off of Voldemort in waves, and his scar prickles as he turns on Harry. Ron presses as far back against his booth as he can go. Hermione looks like she might pass out. He says, “If you run away again, I will hunt you down and cut off your legs.”

Hermione gasps.

Ron pales.

Harry, who’s heard this particular threat before, rolls his yes. “Nagini wouldn’t let you.”

“Nagini is a traitor.”

“You’re just mad she likes me better.”

“She does not—“ He cuts himself off, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Forget the killing curse, I should have tossed you out the bloody window when I had the chance.”

Harry’s fingers itch for the knife the man gave him, itch to stab him with it, and he crosses his arms so he isn’t tempted. “I was a baby. You shouldn’t have attacked me at all!”

“Oh, of course. Because attacking babies is wrong,” Voldemort says with a sneer, mocking the response Harry always gives whenever they talk about such things.

Before Harry can shout at him, he hears a giggle. Eyes wide, he turns to see Hermione looking appalled at herself, both hands clasped over her mouth. “Sorry,” she gasps out. “It’s just—I think I’m going mad.”

Ron looks like he might soon follow her.

Voldemort just looks disgusted, though whether it’s at himself or the entire situation, Harry can’t tell. “That’s it,” he says, dragging Harry out of the booth, “we’re leaving.”

Harry clutches at the table. “I’m not done!”

“Harry, oh my god,” Hermione hisses, darting her gaze to Voldemort’s furious form. “Go!”

Rolling his eyes, Harry stays in his seat just long enough to pass over his purchases. “Hold onto these for me, okay?” He stumbles a little as Voldemort wrenches him to his feet. “I’ll see you at Hogwarts!”

And then they’re gone.

 

The next morning, an hour after the train was scheduled to leave King’s Cross, there’s a knock on the door.

Harry holds Voldemort’s gaze, feeling just as surprised as the man looks. Then he shoots to his feet and races for the door, skidding around the corner into the entryway.

He’s just managed to wrench the door open when Voldemort grabs him by the collar and hauls him back, nearly pulling him right off his feet.

When he regains his footing, clutching to Voldemort’s arm like a lifeline, face surely flushed and hair in disarray, he looks up to see Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape standing on the front step, watching them with varying degrees of horrified expressions (ranging from white faced rage on McGonagall’s face to not-quite-blank placidity on Dumbledore’s).

Dumbledore is the first to break the silence. “Hello, Tom,” he says, and his eyes are all but twinkling now. “May we come in?”

 

“Now, I’ve heard that you don’t plan to return Mr. Potter to Hogwarts this term,” Dumbledore says as he folds his hands over his knee, trying to settle back into his chair, which Harry knows for a fact has been spelled to be particularly uncomfortable; he saw Voldemort cast the spell before shoving it Dumbledore’s way. “I must admit, I have some concerns.”

“I don’t care,” Voldemort says. The twinge in Harry’s scar says otherwise.

Dumbledore eyes the hold Voldemort has on Harry’s arm. “Well then, why don’t we begin by discussing how Mr. Potter came to be in your care?”

When Voldemort stays silent, Harry speaks up instead. “It was a spell.” At Dumbledore’s encouraging look, he adds, “I… He’s trying to find a way to break it, but he hasn’t managed it yet.”

“How do you know that?” Voldemort snaps.

Harry huffs. “I can read, you know,” he says, ignoring Snape’s derisive snort. “You’ve been looking it up since the day we got here."

“Gentlemen,” Dumbledore says mildly.

Harry rolls his eyes at Voldemort before turning back to the others, twitching then he feels a spark of static beneath Voldemort’s palm. “I told him I’d run away if he doesn’t let me go back.”

“I don’t believe that will be necessary.”

“Don’t you?” Voldemort asks, voice deceptively mild. “Tell me, what do you believe?”

“Given the nature of the spell Mr. Potter and his friends have cast,” Dumbledore begins, and Harry snorts; he should’ve known Ron and Hermione would tell him that part too. “I believe you truly have his best interests in mind. It is only your…decisions in pursuit of those interests that I take issue with.”

“I see.” Voldemort’s narrow eyed gaze lands on Snape. “And you, Severus? You’ve been so quiet since you arrived. Tell me, what do you think?”

Harry’s gaze snaps to his potions professor, eyes wide. Snape doesn’t even look at him. “I would like nothing more than to have Potter taken off of my hands—“

“Severus!” McGonagall hisses, appalled.

“—still, I have…doubts.”

“Of course.” Voldemort’s eyes glitter with malice. “And who could blame you, old friend? After all, you care so…deeply for the boy’s wellbeing.”

Snape clenches his jaw but doesn’t say anything more.

Harry does his best to commit every second to memory so he can tell Ron and Hermione all about it later.

“Tom—“ At Voldemort’s glare, and the tightening of his hold on Harry’s arm, Dumbledore falters. Begins again. “Voldemort, then. See reason. You cannot keep Mr. Potter from his schooling.”

“Can’t I?”

“Think very carefully, Voldemort." There's something about Dumbledore now that's more threatening than kind; Harry thinks he can see why he's the only one Voldemort has ever feared. "You know as well as I that we could make this very difficult for you, going forward.” McGonagall makes a small, cut off noise of protest, probably at the idea of making things anything but difficult for Voldemort. Dumbledore ignores her.

So does Voldemort. “I could always disappear, take the boy with me and hide him away, where no one—not you or anyone—will ever see him again.”

Harry holds his breath, holds himself still.

He’s gotten pretty good at telling which threats Voldemort means, and he means this one.

“No one can run forever,” is all Dumbledore says. His gaze lands on Harry then. “And what of your charge? Is that truly the life you feel compelled to give him? No home? No friends? No stability?”

Voldemort lets out a frustrated hiss.

“Hogwarts is not safe,” he says eventually, and Harry relaxes, just a little. He’s giving in. “In only two years, how many times has he nearly died?”

“That’s not fair!” Harry protests, whirling on him. “And you know it.”

Voldemort holds his gaze for a long moment, then turns back to his professors. “I have conditions.”

“Of course,” Dumbledore says, ignoring McGonagall’s incredulous stare. “You would not be the first parent to do so.”

“Parent!” McGonagall echoes, and Harry feels Voldemort’s hand twitch, like he wants to drag Harry closer, away from them. “Albus, this is ridiculous—“

“Tell me, Minerva,” Dumbledore says, looking at Harry again, contemplating. “What would you have me do?”

“Not leave a child with that—that monster, for one!”

Harry steps forward, ignoring the way Voldemort’s hold tightens in response. “It’s okay, professor, honest,” he says. She looks at him, and it’s like her heart is breaking right before his eyes. He swallows down the lump in his throat. “He doesn’t hurt me—well, much, anyway—and he feeds me, and I have a much nicer room here than at the Dursleys. I…” He looks back at Voldemort, then away again at the look in his eyes. It’s too much. “Hermione said that maybe this is a good thing, and…I think she might be right.”

McGonagall clenches her jaw as she turns her glare on Voldemort. “The second I hear that you’ve harmed him, you will have me to contend with.”

Voldemort just looks at her, unimpressed. “Is that supposed to frighten me?”

“Is Potter coming to Hogwarts or not?” Snape demands from the corner where he’s retreated to sulk in, looking profoundly uncomfortable.

Voldemort fingers dig into his arm, then release. Barely audible, he says, voice dripping reluctance, “Yes.”

“Excellent!” Dumbledore claps his hands together. “Now, you said you have conditions?”

Before Voldemort can say anything, Harry gasps, whirling to face him again. “My Hogsmeade form!” he exclaims as the man tenses, like he’s getting ready to fight something. “You can sign it, right? I would’ve asked sooner, but you’ve been a right prick about this whole thing, and I didn’t think—“

Voldemort looks to be on the verge of saying yes just to shut him up when McGonagall interrupts. “Even if he did, Mr. Potter, I’m afraid you would not be allowed to go.”

“Why?” Voldemort demands immediately, before Harry can even open his mouth, eyes narrowed in a suspicious glare. He leans forward, and everyone else but Dumbledore leans back. “It’s tradition for third years, no? Is there a reason why my ward can't join his classmates?”

“Why, Sirius Black, of course,” Dumbledore answers placidly.

Voldemort looks momentarily confused, then says, “Ah, yes, the Azkaban escapee. Why should that affect Harry's ability to go to Hogsmeade?”

“Sirius Black gave up the location of the Potters’ safe house,” Dumbledore says, though he doesn’t sound nearly so sure as he did before. Harry feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. This is the first he’s hearing of any of this. “Before he escaped, he made several statements that led the Ministry to believe he’s after Harry.”

“I see.” Voldemort leans back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other. He looks pleased to say, “You’ve gotten it wrong.”

“Pardon?”

“Sirius Black wasn't mine. He told me nothing.”

It takes a moment for anyone to react. Then Dumbledore appears to age several years before their eyes. “I see.”

McGonagall has one hand pressed to her mouth, looking like she’s seen a ghost.

Snape just looks like he wants to bash his head against the wall. Harry would gladly join him. “Who’s Sirius Black?” he demands when he decides everyone’s had enough time to react.

“He was a friend of your parents,” McGonagall tells him, sounding distraught. “I can’t believe… For all these years…”

“Black was a reckless bully who didn’t care who he hurt,” Snape says darkly. “It wasn’t without basis.”

Voldemort tuns his amused gaze on Harry, seemingly enjoying both the distress his news has caused and Harry’s frustration at failing to receive a full answer. “He was your godfather, I believe.”

Oh.

Alright, then. “I didn’t know I had one.”

“Well, now you do.” That said, Voldemort turns back to Dumbledore. “Was there anything else?”

Dumbledore still sounds unsettled when he says, “Aside from your conditions…”

“I’ll owl you a list.”

“Then, no. Although we must determine when and how Mr. Potter will be arriving, seeing as he missed the train.”

Voldemort hums in thought. “I’ll drop him off before the feast, if you’ll open the floo.”

“Of course,” Dumbledore says, though there’s steel beneath his smile, beneath his placid tone. “Although, if you come through with him, I must insist on serving as your escort for as long as you remain on the grounds. Just a precaution, as I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” Voldemort echoes, and the almost-smile on his face is just as false. He waves one hand, and the door snaps open. “Now get the fuck out of my house.”

 

Once they hear the front door shut behind them (Nagini followed them down the stairs to make sure they actually left), Harry turns to face Voldemort with a grin. “That wasn’t so bad,” he says cheerfully.

Voldemort turns an almost pleasant look his way. “Harry.”

“Yes…?”

“If you aren’t out of my sight in five seconds, I’m going to strangle you.”

Harry is out the door in three.

Chapter Text

After, Harry returns to the classroom Dumbledore warded—the one where Peter Pettigrew’s trapped form is suspended in midair, held in place by a web of magic the Headmaster conjured before he went to gather the Aurors. The man’s face is twisted in fear—only his chest and eyes move as he breathes, as his gaze darts around the room, looking for an escape he won’t find.

He's lost track of how long he’s been standing there, just watching, when he hears the door creak open, hears quiet footsteps over stone.

“Do you know what this means?” Sirius Black—his godfather— asks. He leaves the doorway, steps up to Harry’s side. “Turning him in?”

Harry peers up at him.

Black still looks a lot like the man in the wanted posters; two days of rest aren’t nearly enough to fix years of damage. Still, he looks happier, and certainly cleaner. “It means you’re free,” he says.

“Well, yes.” Black looks down, sticks his hands in the pockets of his borrowed trousers. “But I’m also—I don’t know if anyone ever told you.” He stops, takes a breath, and says in a rush, “I’m your godfather.”

Harry grins. “I know.”

“You—oh. Well…” Black clears his throat, meets his gaze briefly before looking away again. “Your parents wanted me to be your guardian,” he says, “if anything ever happened to them.”

Is he…?

Harry waits, holding his breath.

“I’ll understand, of course, if you want to stay with your aunt and uncle. But, well… Just think on it. Once my name’s cleared…if you wanted a—a different home…”

Some sort of explosion takes place in the pit of Harry’s stomach. “You mean—live with you?” he asks, surprised even though he half expected it. Even though he’d hoped. Because no one’s ever wanted him before—they’ve all just gotten stuck with him, one way or another. Then his face falls as he thinks of what Voldemort would say. “I can’t.”

“Right. Of course,” Black says quickly, shoulders hunching forward, “I understand. I suspected you wouldn’t want—I just thought I’d—“

Harry is already shaking his head. “No, that’s not—I do want to, only—”

“Family is family, and I’d hate to…to take you away from your aunt and uncle—“

“I’m not living with my aunt and uncle!” Harry says, all but shouting.

Black stops, finally. He frowns. “You…what? Then who’re you living with?”

Harry crosses his arms, glaring at the floor. Dumbledore said not to tell anyone, but. Well. It’s his life, isn’t it? He’s the one who gets to decide. He takes a deep, fortifying breath and says, “Voldemort.”

For a long moment, Black doesn’t say anything at all.

Harry peeks up at him, meets his blank stare. “Sorry,” Black says eventually, shaking his head. “I could’ve sworn you said—"

“I did.”

“…Oh.”

“Dumbledore knows.”

“Oh,” Black says again. His expression darkens, and suddenly he looks very much like his wanted posters again. “I…see.” When Black’s hand lands on his shoulder, squeezing, he jumps at the touch. “I’m sorry to say this, Harry," he says with a wild look in his eyes, "but I think I have to kill him.”

“Which one?” Harry asks, eyes wide.

After a beat—“Both, I think.”

“…Right.” He grabs his godfather by the sleeve, tugs him away from Pettigrew’s cage, out of the old classroom and back toward the Hospital Wing. “Well, you can certainly try.”