Chapter 1: Godric's Hollow
“That’s right.” Harry leaned against the mare’s side and reached up to slide his hand carefully back and forth down the heaving bay flank. “You can do this, Princess. Push!”
When he spoke the word, he flooded his fingers with magic, which struck inwards through Princess’s muscles, strengthening them, soothing her pain, and giving her an instinctive understanding of his words. Princess pushed as hard as she could, leaning partially on him and partially on the stable wall and snorting. Harry reached back and touched the soft swell of the emerging colt’s head.
“Just a little more,” he said, and watched golden sparks flicker from his fingers into Princess’s coat, where they shone like miniature stars. “Push.”
She did it again, and the colt dipped and dropped a little more out of her. Harry immediately knelt down behind her and pulled up the soft net that he’d conjured hours ago. Princess pushed one more time, and the colt dropped out and into the net.
Probably the floor of the stall, covered with new straw, would have been soft enough, but Harry had lost the first foal he’d ever delivered to injuries. He didn’t want to take chances.
“Hello, beautiful,” he murmured, heedless of the blood and other fluids on his hands as he turned the colt so that he could make sure the cord was broken. He had already started flailing around, the way he should. A little more blood soaked the straw. Harry stepped carefully back, out of the stall, and watched. Princess should be able to take it from here, but she’d delivered a filly with several problems last year, so Harry had wanted to remain close.
Princess slowly turned her head around, her sides still laboring as she pushed the rest of the placenta out of her. She began to nudge and lick at the colt, and Harry smiled a little. The baby, whose sex he already knew because he’d used magic to sense it before birth, lifted his head and moved his feet clumsily. It was hard to tell what color he was right now because of the fluids staining him, but Harry glimpsed a white patch near his nose and a dark stripe down his back.
He began trying to stand about ten minutes later. Harry watched him waver and crash, and removed the net with a simple wave of his hand when it looked like he might get his hooves tangled up in it. Nearly half an hour after Princess had given birth, the foal was standing. Princess started using her nose to shove him around, and Harry leaned on the door of a stall a few doors down to watch.
It looked like the colt had found the teats maybe twenty minutes after that, given the enthusiastic twitching of his tail. Harry relaxed. He used another wave of his hand and quirk of his magic to clean up the mess in Princess’s stall. That was all he would do for now. Coming any closer any faster might make the colt anxious.
He slipped out of the stable and sauntered up the starlit path towards Charlus and Dorea’s house, feeling a tired satisfaction work its way through his muscles. He’d only stayed up this late because Princess had started to give birth at night and because of the problems she’d had last year.
But it was wonderful to watch new life come into the world, and to feel the spring breeze in his face. Harry was smiling as he entered the kitchen through the back door.
“It went well, then?”
Harry paused when he saw his great-aunt Dorea—well, sort of—sitting up for him at the kitchen table. “Yes, it did. What are you doing up? It’s almost four in the morning.”
“My great-nephew is up. Why shouldn’t I be?”
Harry shook his head and crossed the kitchen to kiss her on the cheek. Dorea reached up to hold his chin in place and looked him sternly in the face. She still had incredibly piercing grey eyes, despite the long ivory streaks in her black hair and the loose skin along her neck. Harry only grinned at her.
“You look tired.”
“I know. I was up late last night, too, because I thought she’d give birth any minute, but it was only false labor. And then of course she couldn’t give birth in the sunlight, that would be too simple.”
“As long as you get some sleep now. I’ll tell Jonquil not to wake you too early in the morning.”
“I don’t mind if she does—”
“Get some sleep.”
There was no arguing with Dorea when she was in that mood. Harry hugged her around the neck and went to his bedroom, which was upstairs and had once belonged to his cousin—sort of—Arthur, Charlus and Dorea’s son. But Arthur had moved out a long time ago and lived at the other end of the village with his wife and children, more of Harry’s sort-of cousins. Harry gratefully dropped straight down into the big bed and closed his eyes.
“Cousin Harry. You promised me a magic lesson.”
Harry grinned at Jonquil Potter, who was sitting at the table waiting for him. She was Arthur’s daughter and had dark hair more like Dorea’s than a typical Potter’s, which meant it behaved. She had blue-green eyes that only looked a little like his. She had been in Slytherin, had successfully taken her NEWTS about half a year before Harry arrived, and was intent on learning all the magic she could, including the battle-magic that Harry didn’t currently plan to teach anyone.
Jonquil had told him that was all right when he told her his intention. She was more stubborn than he was.
I doubt that, Harry thought now, as he had every time since she’d told him, and took his seat at the table across from her. “I promised,” he agreed, and spent a little bit of time gulping down kippers and sausage while Jonquil tapped her fingers on the table.
“Well, when am I going to learn it?”
“Where do you see yourself in five years, Jonquil?”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “Here, probably married and raising children, unless you can tach me magic worth more than that.”
It was the answer she had given before, but this time, Harry picked up on some undertones that he disliked. “So you don’t really want to stay here? But you don’t think you could make it in the world outside Godric’s Hollow without advanced war-magic?”
Jonquil frowned at him. “The pressure to have a family is very strong—”
“I’ve resisted it.”
“You’ve only been here seven months. Wait until Grandmamma Dorea has time to work on you. And they’re as stubborn as I am. I wouldn’t hate having children. But I want to do something else.”
“I don’t know.”
Harry nodded slowly and went back to his meal. Great, frustrated ambition, without a goal. He had seen that kind of ambition before, in a few people in his first world after the war. Neville had known he wanted to do something with Herbology after the war, but not what. And a few people, like Dean Thomas, had been changed so dramatically by fighting and fleeing for their lives that they found it hard to settle into anything.
“I’ll teach you some spells that I wasn’t planning on teaching you,” he said, when he’d finished eating. Jonquil had stayed silent the entire time, just watching him. Harry didn’t know why people carried on about his own gaze being piercing. It couldn’t compare to his cousin’s. “But you have to promise me that you’ll never use them except in defense of your own life or someone else’s.”
Jonquil smiled, an expression that transformed her face. “I promise! At least you didn’t say it had to be self-defense only. That’s what everyone else says when I ask them for lessons in powerful magic.”
Harry snorted a little as he went to get more pumpkin juice. “That’s stupid. Other people need help, too.”
“At least if they’re on your side.”
Harry rolled his eyes. No war with Voldemort had happened in this world; as far as he’d been able to tell, Voldemort had never existed. But Jonquil had survived in Slytherin, in a House where, even though she was pure-blood, people stared at her suspiciously because of her last name. And it seemed dueling was practically a spectator sport, here.
“Fine. Let me check on Princess and her foal, and then I’ll come into the garden with you.”
“I yield. I yield.”
Harry had to remind himself to leash his magic and step back from Jonquil, who was lying, exhausted, on the ground. He had gone too far, as usual. Used too much power, and that meant he’d flung his cousin around the garden instead of simply cursing her to stumble or something. Whenever he fought, he had to remind himself that it wasn’t for his life.
But Jonquil looked at him with a fierce smile as he helped her up. “Thanks, Cousin Harry! That was the real magic.”
“It was, indeed,” said an unamused voice from behind them. “I wonder what you’re thinking, teaching that to my cousin?”
“There you are, Calliope,” Harry said, without turning around. He rolled his eyes at Jonquil, who snickered. “I missed your melodious voice.”
“Very funny. I want to remind you that you’re an intruder in this place and our family, and that—”
“You’ll never forgive me for surviving when your own son Harry didn’t, even though he wouldn’t have been a Harry Potter,” Harry recited. Jonquil clapped her hand over her mouth, her eyes going wide. Harry frankly didn’t care. “Yes, yes, I know. And that’s the reason that I’m living with Dorea and Charlus, and I don’t see what you have to say about it.”
Harry turned around. Calliope Bagshot stood behind him, her arms folded as if she were cold, huddled inside her grey cloak as always. She was the daughter of Fleamont and Euphemia Potter, who would have been Harry’s grandparents, one of the two children they’d had in this world instead of his father James. Calliope had married one of Bathilda Bagshot’s grandchildren and had a single child, a son named Harry who’d died when he was three months old. She couldn’t forgive Harry for having his name, or for telling her that she hadn’t existed in his first world and that James had.
She can’t forgive me for living where he died.
Harry understood her pain, which was one reason he didn’t live in Fleamont and Euphemia’s house where she was a frequent visitor, even though they’d invited him. He respected it. But she would find and harass him even when he was trying to work or teach magic to Jonquil, and Harry had had about enough of it.
“You don’t need to be spiteful.” Calliope’s voice trembled.
Harry sighed. “No, I don’t have to.”
“Neither do you,” Jonquil added. “And I’m eighteen, Calliope. I’ll learn any spell I bloody well want to.”
Calliope turned and walked away without answering. Harry shook his head. He had offered to change his name when he came to Godric’s Hollow, because at least that way he wouldn’t remind her of her dead son. But apparently the fact that he’d once had it would still have been a problem.
Calliope had refused to go to a Mind-Healer for years. Harry pitied her, but there was nothing to be done for her, really.
Not unless he was willing to leave altogether. And he didn’t want to give up his newfound family any more than (most of) the Potters wanted to give him up.
“Don’t mind her, Cousin Harry.” Jonquil was brushing dirt out of her hair. “She’s always like that. She’s angry that Cousin Zachary has three children and she doesn’t have any.”
Zachary was Calliope’s brother. He’d made Harry welcome in his home and Harry had to admit he infinitely preferred him to Calliope, but he frowned at Jonquil anyway. “It’s not nice to make fun of her like that.”
“You don’t know her yet. You might as well make fun of her because she’s never going to change.” Jonquil started running towards her parents’ house. “I’m going to have lunch, and then Mum and Dad—”
She stopped so abruptly that Harry looked at her in concern, afraid she’d fallen over from magical exhaustion. But she was standing by the gate that separated Charlus and Dorea’s garden from the road, staring down it. “Who is that?”
Harry followed her gaze. There was a wizard with a swirling black cloak on his shoulders walking down the path. He was too far away for Harry to see his face, but he was immediately sure that he was a stranger. For one thing, the cloak was edged with silver. No one who had clothing that rich lived in Godric’s Hollow or came there on a regular basis.
For another, the man moved the way Harry did, graceful and confident, as if he’d been trained in war. Harry found his hand falling to his wand without his permission.
“He’s so handsome.”
Jonquil glanced at him, her eyes clearing. “Why do you say that?”
“You remember how I told you that you should always walk like someone’s about to attack you? How do you think he walks?”
Jonquil watched him, leaning on the fence and staring at him unabashed. Harry wanted to shake his head. Stubborn and Slytherin his cousin might be, but she was still pretty naïve in some ways. “Like he could turn and launch a spell in any direction at any minute,” she finally said.
Harry nodded. “There’s no reason to think he’s a bad person. I mean, I walk that way and I’m not a bad person—”
“So you say.”
“Hush, you. Anyway, he could be a battle-mage, or maybe an Auror. It just might be better to keep your distance in case he came to Godric’s Hollow hunting someone.”
Jonquil set her jaw, and Harry withheld his groan. His other small cousins were either all away at Hogwarts or young enough that they were toddlers and spent all day every day under the supervision of some adult. Jonquil was the only one who was old enough to get into trouble with this stranger.
I’ll have to watch her.
The man had apparently spotted them, so he altered his direction to come towards them. Harry watched him idly. The more he came near, the more Harry decided that he was a dangerous man rather than an Auror. Or, well, maybe Auror trainee. He was just too young to be full-fledged, even if he had entered training right after taking his NEWTS the way Harry (briefly) had.
Then the man glanced up to smile at Jonquil, and Harry found himself choking. The man turned to him.
There could be no mistaking those dark eyes and impatient jaw and gently-swept-back dark hair.
This was Tom Riddle, a year or two older than his diary self.
Harry set his hand on his wand. He didn’t know what was going on, but if he had to sell his life to defend himself and his cousin, that’s what would happen.
Just try something, Riddle. Just try it.
Chapter 2: The Foretold Weapon
Tom watched the two people at the fence as he came closer to them. They were the only young people he had seen so far in Godric’s Hollow, but given that this world’s Hogwarts was probably in session, that was not surprising.
The girl on the right stared at him as if he were a prince that had walked out of her dreams. Sleek, straight black hair, large eyes, pale skin, pretty enough features. Tom supposed that he might charm her into telling him what he wanted to know, although whether she did know anything was doubtful. She looked perhaps a year younger than he was, but as with so many children in any world, his mental age was far more advanced than hers.
The boy was more interesting. Shaggy black hair proclaimed him probably a Potter. His folded arms and drawn wand and balanced body proclaimed something else.
Some Auror training? Tom revised the estimate as he glided closer. No, battle training.
He had arrived in this dimension three days ago, and none of the minds he had torn through, wizard or Muggle, contained images of any recent battles. That made the boy more interesting.
Tom gave him a faint smile, and turned to the girl. “What’s your name?” he asked softly. “Do you know where I might get shelter?”
“My parents could put you up.” The girl had her hands clasped, her face flushed. Her voice was rapid. “My name is Jonquil Potter. This is my cousin Harry. We can—you wouldn’t have to pay anything, there’s an inn but you don’t need to go there, I’m sure—”
“That’s enough, Jonquil.”
Potter. I was right. And both of them? Good. I should have my choice. Tom turned his gaze to the boy, and clamped down control on his muscles to prevent himself from recoiling. The boy had green eyes that blazed, and Tom could feel the magic building around him, on the edge of a Dark curse.
“Have I done something to offend you?” Tom asked, with his best humble smile. He’d perfected it in the last year, when he’d searched for help in dark corners and had to pretend to abase himself before creatures and the once-living that held the secrets he sought.
“I notice you haven’t given us your name.”
“Easily remedied. I am Tom Gaunt.”
The boy’s face twitched, as if he didn’t know how to react. Tom watched him closely. No, perhaps he had been mistaken about the age, despite the lack of lines in the boy’s skin. He had to be older, perhaps older than Tom, to have that much magic and that much control of his body.
Not old enough to hide his emotions, though. Tom gave a small smile at the thought.
“Harry, you’re being rude.” Jonquil gave a tug on her cousin’s arm and rolled her eyes at him, before she turned back to Tom. “You’ll have to forgive him. Harry doesn’t have the best manners. And so you’re related to the pure-blood Gaunts? They’re an ancient family.”
“Indeed. My mother was one of them. Merope Gaunt.”
Tom kept one eye on Harry as he spoke with Jonquil. Harry never looked away from him, and although his magic had settled back from the edge of striking, it lingered around his shoulders, coiled. Tom turned his head as if to include Harry in the conversation about the history of the Gaunts, and tried to send a swift probe under the surface of those green eyes.
Harry’s wand blurred until it met his throat. Tom stood there, relaxed, although it took an effort.
“Next time, Rid—Gaunt,” Harry said softly, ignoring the way that his cousin was trying to make his hand move, “you’ll respect someone’s mental privacy, won’t you?”
Riddle. I’m sure he was about to say Riddle. A cold fire burned through Tom’s limbs. For the moment, however, he only inclined his head and smiled charmingly. “I’m sorry. I’m a natural Legilimens, and sometimes it slips out of my control.”
“I’m sure that you couldn’t help it. And Harry is rude.”
“Just perceptive, I think.”
Tom kept his gaze fastened on Harry as he spoke, and let his magic flare softly around him. It was soft enough that he knew Jonquil wouldn’t feel it. The vast majority of ordinary witches and wizards never would. But Harry’s lip curled, and the battle-light flared in his eyes, and his magic snapped at Tom’s with piercing teeth.
Tom was afraid he let out half a gasp before he could stop himself. Those teeth were sharp enough that he wanted to call out more magic. It had been years since he felt fear of anything but death. Tom held Harry’s eyes and smiled a little.
Harry seemed to have the same idea he did, to get Jonquil out of the picture so they could speak more openly. “Jonquil, why don’t you go ask your parents if Gaunt can stay with them? Or maybe ask Zachary and Marie? I don’t know if your parents have the room.”
“Well, they would with Rosa and Rigel at Hogwarts—”
“But when they come back, and if Gaunt’s still here, would you want him to have to share a room?”
For a moment, Tom was afraid that the girl would say he could share with her, but in the end, Jonquil nodded and ran off across the garden towards the houses further in the village. Tom backed up a step to give himself more room.
Harry’s wand snapped down. Immediately, a bubble that Tom could only make out by a slight distortion in the air loomed around them, one that would keep noises from traveling outside it. But sounds from outside could still travel in to them, Tom realized after a moment of listening to distant cows. He smiled thinly.
“I congratulate you on your skill at magic.”
“And you on your smooth tongue, Riddle. What do you want?”
“Riddle is my father’s name. I’ve never claimed it.”
“My apologies, Gaunt.” Harry’s voice was tinged with sarcasm that made Tom’s teeth itch. “What do you want?”
“I came here because I’m seeking a way to make my mark in my own world,” Tom said. He saw no point in hiding that he came from another dimension. He’d never intended to once he started to run into Potters. “An oracle foretold that I need a Potter to make that mark. There are no Potters left with children in my own world. I came here.”
Harry laughed without parting his lips. His eyes were so wild with rage that Tom was mildly impressed he simply stood there instead of hurling himself over the fence. “If you try to hurt my cousins, Gaunt, I’ll tear you apart.”
“So violent. What have I done to you?”
“A variation of you killed my parents, killed my friends, killed people I considered part of my family, and hunted me for most of my life. I came to this world to get away from the aftermath of that war. Do you think I’m going to let you hurt this part of my family?”
Tom felt his eyes widen. His breath came out in a short huff before he could contain himself. “So you come from another world as well? Why?”
“To find family.”
Tom edged to the side, studying Harry. Harry continued to watch him, with an annoying alertness. Tom wasn’t used to his enemies giving him that kind of consideration. If anything, dangerous people tended to underestimate him the instant they found out he was a half-blood. “How did you get here? How did you open the door?” Tom had made a sacrifice to the Oracle of London, but it wasn’t as though he mourned it. Power was worth more than anyone else’s blood.
Harry gave him a mocking smile and didn’t answer.
“Harry.” Tom tasted the name. He had to wonder if this was the Potter the Oracle had promised him. “You could tell me. Or I could pull it from the minds of your cousins and uncles and aunts when I meet them.”
“None of them know the truth. And the minute you try Legilimency on me again, I’m going to strike, Gaunt.”
A promise in those words. A threat. Tom’s fingers tingled. He wanted to duel. He wanted to break the silencing bubble and take Harry somewhere more private and fight him as hard as he could, until he knelt for Tom.
He controlled that impulse, and said only, “I don’t see why we need to be hasty. I’m not here to destroy any of your family. I need a Potter to help me control my world. Alienating the family would be impractical. And if someone of age chooses to go with me…” He looked along the path Jonquil had taken.
“Yes. If they choose.” Harry’s wand hadn’t wavered yet. “If you use the Imperius Curse, if you hit her with the Cruciatus, if you plant suggestions in her mind with Legilimency, then I’ll destroy you, Tom. I destroyed the other variation of you. I can do it again.”
Tom narrowed his eyes. “You don’t feel as powerful as I do.” And again the temptation to duel came to life in his chest. He wanted to face Harry’s magic, feel it ache around his skin and strike back hard enough to make the ground tremble. He’d never been able to do that with anyone. The only person he’d found who could match him was Dumbledore, and Tom could never have come up with a good excuse to duel the Minister of Magic.
Harry gave him a grin on the far side of feral, and seemed to let go of the chains that he’d coiled around his power.
Tom took a step back despite himself as the air around Harry turned dark and hazy. Magic was swirling and storming, filling the bubble, trembling longingly on the edge of attacking him. Tom began to raise his own power.
And then the magic around him vanished. Harry had sucked it back behind his shields and stood there regarding Tom with a mocking expression.
Tom licked his lips. His mouth was full of saliva, and he couldn’t help it, because this was incredible. He edged a step forwards. “You faced him in battle, and you won?”
“He cast the Killing Curse at me. I resisted it.”
Tom clenched his hands. He hadn’t encountered something he wanted this much since his mother showed him one of the rich manor houses where the pure-bloods lived. “I want to know how.”
“Not a way you could imitate.”
“You have people here whose safety you care about. If I was to ask them—”
“Again, I haven’t told them. And Tom?”
Harry’s magic shot out again, so fast that Tom had no chance of blocking it. It circled around his throat and squeezed. Tom choked and raised a frantic hand, trying to brush away the nothingness that held him. His own power flung itself forwards and crashed against an invisible shield that seemed to start at his skin.
“I wouldn’t,” Harry said, and the pressure vanished. So did the bubble of silence that had lingered around them, and Tom saw Jonquil Potter running back towards him.
Harry stared at him with half-lidded eyes. “If you can persuade Jonquil or one of the others to go with you, then I don’t care. But if you hurt them, if you persuade them with magic, if you torture them even emotionally, then I’m going to kill you.”
He stepped back and resumed a normal, placid expression as Jonquil halted beside them and shook her head. “Harry, were you being rude again?”
“Oh, no. Gaunt and I came to an understanding, that’s all. Do your parents have room for him?”
“Yes, they do,” Jonquil declared, as if she expected her cousin to contradict her. She reached out and waited for Tom’s nod of permission before she took his arm. “Come on. Our house is down this lane and around the corner. They said you can have Rigel’s room. And you can redecorate it however you want, he never comes home from Hogwarts for the Easter hols…”
Tom made soft noises of agreement and gave her a dazzling smile that seemed to do the trick better than anything else could have, but he did turn his head so he could watch Harry from the corner of his eye. Harry was walking rapidly towards a barn that presumably stood on some Potter’s property.
The Oracle had told him that he would know the right Potter by an unmistakable sign, but hadn’t mentioned what it was. As far as Tom was concerned, he’d just seen it.
There did remain the small matter of persuading Harry. But Tom had charm, and time, and other weapons that Harry didn’t possess a glimpse of.
He had already betrayed one secret.
He thinks that what he did or lived through is so horrible that he doesn’t want his family knowing about it.
Tom could exploit that. Tom could happily exploit that.
“A fine foal you have,” Harry told Princess, keeping his voice low. He watched the colt dance around her. He was a sleek black-and white at the moment, echoing his sire’s colors. “I’m glad you didn’t have the kind of problems that Dorea told me you had last year.”
Princess nudged him hard enough that Harry swayed back from the stall door where he gripped it. He laughed and reached out, lightly stroking his fingers through her mane, feeling as if the spinning world had finally slowed down.
Tom Riddle—Tom Gaunt, whatever he called himself. Here.
Harry sighed. He supposed he shouldn’t have antagonized the man like that. No, Harry wouldn’t let him hurt any of the Potters. But there was no guarantee that he even wanted to do that. Not if he wanted to persuade someone to come back to his world with him.
“And conquer it?” Harry murmured to Princess, shaking his head as he watched the colt examine his own hooves. “Why would you even have goals like that? What’s wrong with wanting a goal of a loving life and a loving family?”
Princess licked her colt and didn’t answer, of course. Harry turned to go back to the house. He’d really spent more time than he could justify examining Princess and her foal if the family had a guest. Dorea was strict about that.
Charlus was the one who met him at the door, though. “This Gaunt fellow who’s being put up at Arthur’s house,” he said in the abrupt way he had, leading Harry into the kitchen and gesturing at the pickles and tomatoes and cheese and bread spread out all over the table so Harry could help himself. “What do you know about him?”
Harry sighed and began to make his sandwich. “He’s powerful. And Jonquil is really attracted to him.”
He sneaked a glance at Charlus, who was frowning. But the man only shook his head when he saw Harry looking, his wild hair standing out around his head. “She’s of age. We can’t stop her from going with him if she wants.”
“No,” Harry agreed. And he did have to wonder, as he sat down to much his sandwich full of pickles and cheese and ham, if this might be a solution for Jonquil. She didn’t have a career in mind, she was ambitious, she wanted power. It wouldn’t be great for her to go off with Tom Riddle-Gaunt and conquer a different world, but on the other hand, Harry couldn’t stand in her way and he didn’t want to save another world. And Tom wouldn’t hurt her if she was this weapon the Oracle had foretold for him.
“I sometimes wonder, Harry…”
Harry glanced up. Charlus was watching him. “Wonder what?”
“If you care about anything except your family?”
“The friends I left behind in the other world. The animals I take care of here.”
“But not the wider world?”
Harry had to grin as he reached for a mug of butterbeer that Charlus pushed towards him. “Not really? I did my part in the last war I was in. I reckon I deserve a rest.”
Charlus nodded, his hazel eyes bright with curiosity. He had always wanted to know more about Harry’s first world, but he also respected that Harry didn’t want to tell him. “Well, let Jonquil go off and see if she can care about the whole world, assuming this Gaunt fellow will take her with him. He looks as if he could do it, and she has the scope for it.”
Harry just chuckled weakly and nodded. He wasn’t a fan of Tom Riddle’s methods, but he had done his part. He’d had his war.
He wanted Gaunt to leave him, and his family, in peace.
By the time that he lay down in a hastily redecorated boy’s room that night, Tom had met all the Potters except for the children currently away at school. They had various strengths, various shades of welcoming smiles for him, various weaknesses and ways of talking and walking.
But none of them were as strong as Harry. None of them pushed back or were as much of a challenge.
It was true that the Oracle had told him the Potter he sought would be strong enough to help him conquer his world. The thing had never said that the Potter would actually be a weapon. That was the interpretation Tom had put on it.
But someone who had the potential to be his equal…
Tom fell asleep smiling.
Chapter 3: Tests of Power
“Good morning, Tom. Did you sleep well?”
Jonquil Potter’s voice was soft, and she glanced at him from under one strip of straight black hair, before she went back to using spells to stir the porridge. Tom leaned on the wall near the door. He knew the strip of hair across her face was calculated, as was helping with the cooking. She’d shown no signs of doing it last night at dinner.
“I did,” he said, and then paused and sighed. “I just don’t like how I seem to have irritated some people on my first day here.”
“Don’t worry, Aunt Calliope’s always like that.”
“I was talking more about your cousin.”
“Cousin Harry?” Jonquil laughed softly as she stopped stirring the porridge and cast another spell that began to pour it into bowls. “You shouldn’t worry about him. Sometimes he has memories from the war that catch up with him. You probably reminded him of someone he met in his other world.”
“So you do know about the war and his other world?” Tom took a seat at one end of the table. Last night, Arthur, Jonquil’s father, had insisted that he sit there. “I was under the impression that he hadn’t told any of you about that.”
“Well, just a little.” Jonquil brought his bowl over to him, walking with a gliding stride that emphasized the swing of her hips and the way her hair framed her face. Tom had been utterly unsurprised, yesterday, to learn that she had been in Slytherin. She wouldn’t catch him, but it was an attempt. “He won’t tell me about it completely. He says the blood would frighten me. It’s ridiculous. I’m eighteen years old. I don’t need to be sheltered.”
And yet, you’re so young, Tom thought as he accepted the porridge and the containers of honey and milk Jonquil set next to him. Compared to him, anyone would be, of course.
He had come here, oddly enough, thinking he would find someone like Jonquil, someone who didn’t understand exactly what he was about. Most Potters wouldn’t have worked with him, they were so staunchly on the side of Light. So he would lie and misdirect, and ensure that he had what he needed to fulfill the Oracle’s prophecy.
Instead, he had found Harry, who knew exactly what he was about and who he could only drag to his side through persuasion. And yet, Tom thought as he drizzled honey over his porridge and accepted the scones and butter Jonquil brought him next, he hadn’t felt this satiated, contented feeling in the center of his chest for a long time.
“Good morning, Mr. Gaunt.”
Tom smiled at the large man standing in the doorway. He looked much more like the traditional Potters, with wild black hair and glasses that barely concealed golden-brown eyes. “Good morning, Mr. Potter.”
Jonquil’s father hesitated once, then lumbered over to sit down at the head of the table again. “Let’s put aside this formality nonsense and have you call me Arthur. I’ll call you Tom. I already heard my daughter being forward with a strange wizard.”
She sounds like a little girl, Tom thought as he swallowed and nodded. “Thank you, Arthur. And good morning, Mrs. Potter,” he added, as Jonquil’s mother followed her husband into the kitchen. “Or should I call you Celandine?”
“I would prefer Celandine, thank you.”
Celandine Potter—who had been a Burke before her marriage, apparently—was a small, thin woman with tumbling wavy brown hair and timid blue eyes. Tom watched as she took a seat next to her husband. He wondered idly if she and Arthur Potter had got together because of the attraction of opposites. She looked like a flower that a bear might tread on.
And you are paying too much attention to Potters who are not your target.
Tom let a few more minutes of cooking and eating go by, the better to leave what would feel like a natural segue, and then said, “Jonquil and I were just talking about her cousin Harry Potter, whom I met yesterday.”
“Harry doesn’t like Tom,” Jonquil said, rolling her eyes.
“Harry has had a hard life, I’m afraid,” said Arthur. “You mustn’t take his comments to heart, Tom.”
“Oh, I don’t. I was just wondering how well he fits into life around here. Do I need to worry about him if I’m staying with you? Or—well, I don’t want to disrupt your family life. Do I need to go?”
“Of course not!” Jonquil stood up and gave her parents an imperious look. “I’ll leave myself it you send him away.”
“Calm down, Jonquil, no one’s talking about sending Tom anywhere.”
“No, they’re not,” said Celandine in a colorless voice, glancing at Tom. “But you wouldn’t mind telling us what you and Harry argued about? Most of the time he’s so calm and quiet I forget he has a temper.”
“Of course,” Tom said calmly. “He doesn’t like the fact that I’m only a year older than your daughter, and that I look as if I’m trained for war. I think he’s afraid I’ll seduce Jonquil and carry her away.”
Jonquil’s eyes glowed, as if there was nothing she wished for more. “Cousin Harry can keep his nose out of my business.”
“That does sound like Harry. Sorry, Tom. I’m afraid he’s overprotective.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gaunt.”
Tom eyed Celandine. He realized that she had never actually agreed to call him by his first name the way the others had. Something else to keep an eye on, although she might simply be reserved and mean nothing by it.
“I’ll tell Cousin Harry to stay out of my business today. He doesn’t have any right imagining that you’re an errant seducer. He can keep away.”
And she wants me to be an errant seducer, Tom thought, while he smiled vaguely at Jonquil and went back to eating. He hadn’t learned that much about Harry, but the temper comment was worth something.
Time to get back to the seduction that mattered, after breakfast.
“You think she’ll be okay, Mr. Potter?”
“I think so.” Harry eyed the calf in front of him for a moment before nodding. She nudged at him with her wet nose and reached out to snatch at the small bottle of milk that Leland Jerryns was carrying. “As long as you add those spells I taught you to the bottle, since she doesn’t have her actual mother’s milk to drink.”
“Yes, I will. And thank you.”
Harry gave him another smile. Leland Jerryns was one of the few Muggleborn wizards in the village, and most of his concern went to his cows and his sheep. “It’s not a bad thing to try and raise her because her mother died, you know? She just needs more vitamins in her milk than most baby animals would.”
“Now I know.” Jerryns knelt down in front of the calf, who he had said was called Harriet—to Harry’s intense embarrassment—and offered her the bottle. She began to suck at once, her brown-and-white sides heaving.
Harry laughed to himself and left the barn, picking straw off the hems of his robe as he went. He whistled tunelessly as he made his way up the path to Charus and Dorea’s house. He had another appointment after lunch, this one some distance away, to examine a pregnant ewe who seemed to be starving herself.
He relished making a difference, helping the helpless, both the animals and their owners.
Of course, right then the new bane of his life had to make an appearance.
Harry eyed Gaunt sideways and said nothing. Charlus and Dorea’s house was only a few meters away, and their back door was open, spreading out a thick, delicious scent of baking bread. Harry would eat. He would leave. He would—
Gaunt’s magic swirled out to touch his.
Harry immediately snapped his own power back inside his skin, out of reach, and lengthened his stride.
“That’s impressive,” Gaunt said, his voice neutral. “Where did you learn to do that? I could sense how strong you were yesterday. Now you feel like an ordinary wizard I might have walked right past.”
And don’t we all wish that was true? Well, Jonquil probably didn’t. Harry had to admit that the more he thought about it, the more taking over another world or being in a position of power there was probably perfect for her.
“It’s rude to ignore your guests, Harry.”
Harry only shrugged and walked into the house. Gaunt followed him. Dorea would probably insist on talking to him and spoiling to him the way she did almost everyone who stepped into her kitchen, but Harry didn’t care. He only wanted to avoid Gaunt taking an interest in him.
“Harry? Why are you ignoring Mr. Gaunt?”
Harry gritted his teeth and smiled at his could-have-been great-aunt. “He was asking questions that I didn’t think needed an answer,” he said, and used his wand to cut a thick slice off the steaming new loaf on the counter. Then he looked around for the cheese. He would take this and escape to his Apparition point.
“Oh, no, you don’t, young man. I understand that your next appointment isn’t until two in the afternoon. That leaves you two hours to sit and eat and make up for your rudeness.”
Harry felt his face freeze, but honestly, he didn’t care if Dorea saw it at the moment. “I don’t want to. Not with him.”
Most of the time, Dorea was quick enough to take a hint, especially when Harry talked about his first world without actually mentioning it. She only studied him with blank dark eyes, and then nodded at the chair at the foot of the table.
Harry took it, bristling a little. But he didn’t want to upset her, and this was the house he had to come back in and sleep in at night. And he’d heard Dorea speak of Hospitality Curses before, which did things like transform any food an unwelcome guest took out of the house into poison.
Gaunt sat down next to him and smiled at him. His eyes were perhaps a slightly different, deeper blue than those of the diary shade. “I was only asking where you’d learned to conceal your magic like that, Harry.”
“In the war I was in.” Maybe he had to answer, but he could still be as unwelcoming as possible. Dorea placed plates of cut fruit and nuts and the cheese Harry had been looking for on the table. Harry cut a thick slice and stuffed it into the bread, imagining he was cramming it into Gaunt’s mouth.
Gaunt. This would be much easier if he could think of him as Riddle. Then he wouldn’t feel the compulsion to play nice.
“It must have been hard for you.” Gaunt’s voice was soft in a way that made Dorea cast him an approving glance as she placed delicate wedges of bread and cheese on her own plate. “Have you sought out a Mind-Healer to deal with it?”
Harry shook his head and said, “I don’t want to try and explain what happened to a Mind-Healer not of my first world.” Give him casual answers, if Dorea wouldn’t let him get away with curt ones. Harry cut off a small piece of bread and swallowed it so he wouldn’t get glared at for gulping.
“I have some experience in Legilimency and Occlumency. I could help.”
“No, thanks. I also knew some people in the war who tried to probe into my mind. I don’t want that kind of help.”
“You know that Mind-Healers would only use it for your own good, Harry.”
“Oh, perhaps they would,” Harry said, and shrugged. He could still feel Gaunt’s fascinated gaze, but he didn’t need to look up to confront it, so he didn’t. “But someone who’s not trained as a Mind-Healer poking around in there…it feels like violence.”
He kept his magic tightly leashed, and smiled at Gaunt. Let the bastard choke on my politeness, if he can.
Harry Potter was fascinating.
Sitting next to him now, Tom might easily have thought him a Muggle. He was sensitive to magic, a talent which had made his mother look at him sometimes with pride and sometimes with panic. She always feared Tom would encounter a stronger wizard who would drive him mad.
But the only stronger wizard Tom had met was Minister Dumbledore, who always let only a small trickle of power escape, exactly enough to reassure those around him that he knew what he was doing and he knew best.
And now, Harry.
The lunch continued, and Tom tried canny new methods of interrogation, asking about Potter family history, Harry’s first world, magical theory, the Potters’ connection with the Blacks, the history of Godric’s Hollow, and other attacks both subtle and direct. Dorea often answered him. Harry hunched over his lunch and ate as if he couldn’t wait to get back to healing sick livestock.
What a waste of his talent. If Harry really wanted to be an animal healer, he could have treated dangerous magical beasts like dragons and earned renown and wealth. But he was content to live out his life in a backwater and ensure lambs were born and foals didn’t lose their mothers?
It offended Tom on behalf of common sense.
Harry finally stood from the table and smiled at Dorea. “It’s as delicious as always, Aunt. Thank you.” He kissed her cheek and strode towards the door, throwing over his shoulder, “Enjoy your stay here today, Mr. Gaunt.”
Tom watched thoughtfully as Harry disappeared. He wasn’t foolish enough to follow, but only for now.
“What did the alternate version of you do to him?”
Tom turned to Dorea. She had shed the guise of the kind hostess, and he could see a Black matriarch sitting in front of him. She had her hand on her wand, and she was ready to use it.
“I don’t know all the details,” Tom said. “But I know that that version of me hurt him and took away his family.”
“That would—explain much.” Dorea’s dark eyes slid shut for a second, and then focused on him again. Tom watched her in the serene knowledge that he was stronger than she was. “And you have come here to do it again? How many victims have you planned on?” Her wand rose and pointed at Tom, a gleaming one made of polished ash.
“I don’t want to kill anyone here,” Tom said truthfully. He might hurt them, but that was a different matter. “I actually want to talk to Harry about the differences between that version and myself.” He made a guess, which was an educated one. “I doubt that version of me had his parents. I had my mother. It made a difference.”
Dorea’s wand lowered slowly. “It does. Harry said something once about—well, those details are his to tell you.”
Tom nodded. He would prefer to get them from Harry, to hear the tales drip out from him one by one like blood from a hanging corpse. “I can promise that I didn’t come here to kill your family, Madam Black. It was actually an oracle who told me that a Potter is necessary to help me in all my goals.”
“It’s Mrs. Potter.” But Dorea studied him with more than disgust, now. “I think you might actually be telling the truth.”
Tom shrugged. Deception was more trouble than it was worth, unless he needed to cover up something that would get him in more trouble than the lie. “I risked a lot to come here, Mrs. Potter. Blood and walking in the shadows to find the Oracle. Time and magic and the chance that traveling through a portal between worlds would rip me apart. I have no reason to lie. I know Potters don’t tolerate it, anyway.”
“Neither do Potters by marriage.” Dorea gave him a sweet smile that would have made her look like a stereotypical grandmother if not for the hint of temper far back in her eyes. “Why don’t you go and join Harry?”
“I don’t know where he Apparated.”
“I would have been able to hear if he’d Apparated. He makes as much noise as a rooster choking to death.”
Tom chuckled politely and stepped vigorously out of the house, then cast one of his own spells, one that needed only a person’s real name to tug him towards them. In seconds he was leaving the gate and stepping across the grass on a shorter route than the paths permitted, to join Harry as he walked along a trail.
Harry’s shoulder’s stiffened, and he turned with his magic lashing about him. “What did I tell you, Gaunt?”
“Not to seduce your cousin. Not to use Legilimency on your family members. Not to hurt or threaten them. I fail to see which of them I’m doing as I stand here.”
Harry coiled his magic close about his shoulders again. Then he said, “Who told you where I was?”
“Your great-aunt thought you needed company.”
Harry stared at him, but perhaps he knew how to detect the telltales of a lie, because he sneered and looked away. “Fine, Gaunt. But I expect you to stay out of the way when we get to the farm, all right? If something goes wrong with this ewe because you’re there, I won’t forgive you.”
The words were a simple, heavy threat, one that needed no elaboration. Tom nodded and fell into step beside Harry. He couldn’t resist saying, though, “Did you ever think that you could do more with your life than heal animals?”
“I could damage you. I’ve had lots of practice at it.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
Harry faced him for a single second with his eyes on fire. Then he seemed to remember what Dorea might say if he harmed Tom, and began walking to the Apparition point again, his shoulders hunched.
Tom chuckled and followed. It seemed Harry thought threatening him was the way to get him to back off.
No, I’m different than the monster in his world. And thank Merlin for that.
Chapter 4: Clash
“Are you sure that she’s going to be all right?”
“Of course she will. She’s going to deliver the lamb without any trouble. And it’s healthy, as far as I can determine without cutting open her womb to check.”
“Then why was she starving herself?”
“That was her disdain for the grass and the grain that you were feeding her. Let her graze more often in your other pasture, Stephen. I know that you think she was eating too many forbs, but she needs them. She’s just picky.”
Tom stood out of the way and watched quietly as Harry reassured the anxious farmer—Stephen McMaster, apparently—that his pregnant ewe wouldn’t actually starve herself to death. It seemed incredible that he would waste his magic and his time doing this. Tom knew what ambition was. He had it. Dumbledore had it. Plenty of wizards in his world less powerful than Harry had it.
How could someone this strong have stifled every trace of it?
McMaster sighed heavily and wiped one hand across his unfortunate eyes, one of them blue and one brown. “You know I can’t pay you everything I owe you for today, Harry. Can you wait until—”
“It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to pay me for today.”
Tom wanted to shake his head. He only stood and watched as the ewe began to eat something, perhaps the mysterious forbs, and McMaster gaped at Harry. “You’ve done so much for me, I have to do something.”
“And what I would like more than anything, at the moment, is simply for you to let it go.” Harry ran a gentle hand down the ewe’s side. She butted up against him for a second without raising her head from her eating, which Tom found depressingly like the way other people treated Harry. “I don’t do this for the riches and fame. I do this because I like to help people and animals.”
Did he practice the sickly sweetness in front of the mirror?
“Well, if you’re sure…I can’t deny that I could use the money…”
“Of course. And make sure that you let me know when the lamb is born.” Harry smiled at McMaster and stepped away with an easy grace, moving back to the Apparition point through the small village of Bluewater. Tom followed him, eyeing him. Yes, he walked as if he was ready to guard his back any second. That alone would have told Tom he’d been in a war even if nothing else had.
“Had your fill of staring at me?”
Tom rolled his eyes a little and jogged up until he was walking beside Harry. He could feel McMaster staring at his back curiously, but he wasn’t here to explain himself to idiots. “I’ll never be done staring at someone who ignores his talents this way.”
“I don’t see how you can say that. I do have a talent for healing animals, and it’s easy to work on.”
“You have a gift for war. You must have, to survive it. Why can’t you see that you belong in the middle of a war, with someone fighting at your back?”
Harry choked, and then said, “That was the clumsiest seduction attempt I’ve ever seen you make, Riddle. Offering to bring my parents back when I was eleven was more subtle.”
“My name isn’t Riddle.” Tom made his voice quiet. If he was right about Harry, then guilt would prick the other man soon, and cause him to soften his stance towards someone who hadn’t hurt him yet.
Harry breathed out strongly. Then he said, “Focus your seduction attempts on Jonquil. It doesn’t please me, but she’s old enough to make her own decisions and go with you if she wants to.”
“She doesn’t have your power.”
“If you think power is all that’s necessary to winning a war, Riddle, then you aren’t worthy of having her after all.”
Harry started to stride faster. Tom followed him, waiting until they were out of sight from McMaster around a bend in the path to ask, “Do you have any other menial tasks here, or are we going back to Godric’s Hollow?”
Harry turned to stare at him. His eyes were sparking, and Tom marveled again at their color. “Those menial tasks are my livelihood.”
“They don’t have to be. That’s what you chose, but it’s not as though you’re condemned to that because you don’t have the magical gifts to do something else.”
Harry laughed soundlessly without looking away from him. “If you had any idea what my life has been like, Gaunt, then you would understand why my own choice matters so much to me.”
“Then talk about your choices. Talk about your life. Tell me.”
“You would use it as a weakness that you would exploit to destroy me. I was a naïve child when you offered to bring my parents back, but I’m a lot stronger than that now. Focus your attention on Jonquil. She’s the one who’s the perfect age for what you’re offering.”
“You don’t seem that much older than me. What’s your age?”
Harry’s voice was taut in the way that Tom knew meant he wanted to end the conversation. But it meant something that he’d answered at all. Tom continued in the same calm, unwavering tone. “Still young enough to change your mind and not settle down forever with your first choice.”
“You make it sound as though you want me to marry you or something.”
Tom smiled and said nothing. He wanted Harry to be the one to initiate the next part of the conversation. And Harry did, before they’d made it back to the Apparition point and Tom had just tilted his head to study the cloudy skies.
“What do you want?”
“Someone to stand beside me while I fight for the power I should have in my own world,” Tom said. He’d thought Harry understood that before now, but perhaps he hadn’t been explicit enough. “Someone who won’t pat me on the head and tell me that the world is perfect because Muggleborns have a few rights and half-bloods aren’t openly discriminated against in Slytherin.”
“Wait. You’d fight for Muggleborns?”
“I’d fight for change. The Muggleborns are an important part of supporting it, though, yes. They have the most to gain if the world changes from the one Dumbledore made in his image.”
Harry stared at him. Tom looked calmly back. He didn’t try to use Legilimency. He didn’t want to infuriate Harry. Intrigue him, make him curious. It was the way he’d won more followers than any other.
“But you—you’ve always been a pure-blood supremacist. And you came in search of a pure-blood Potter. That means you must want someone without any Muggle blood to stand beside you in your conquest of the world.”
Tom sighed. “Listen to me, Harry. I came in search of a Potter. I assumed pure blood was likelier than otherwise, yes, since Potters do tend to marry more among their own kind. But I could never be a blood purist and get away with it. My mother raised me. The tale of her seducing a Muggle is well-known. I have earned respect in spite of her mistakes, not because they were hidden. There are pure-bloods who respect my Parseltongue ability and my magic and will follow me because they despise Dumbledore as well. At least they think they can have more from a half-blood Lord who agrees with them than from the status quo.”
Harry stared at him with wide eyes, in silence. Then he simply turned away and began walking towards the Apparition point again.
“That matters to you,” Tom said, jogging to catch up with him. “It has to matter to you. I know it does.”
“It—it’s different than the Voldemort in my world.”
“I can’t believe another version of myself assumed such a ridiculous name.”
“He hated his Muggle one.”
Tom shrugged. “He grew up without Mother, then. She’s the one who told me to take pride in my power, not my blood, and she gave me the name. I’m not going to reject it when she was the one who chose it.”
Harry remained silent until they had Apparated back to Godric’s Hollow. Then he said, “You’re not as horrible as I thought you were, and that’s something I’ll remember, Gaunt. But I’m not going to join you in your quest to take over your world.”
“What if you—”
Tom halted. He had reached out and brushed his hand against Harry’s arm without thought, because touch was a way that he knew he could use to persuade people in his own world to his side. He hadn’t thought this spark would leap between them, burning so fiercely that he felt as if he was about to go up in flames. He stared at his hand and then at Harry’s arm.
The burn changed to pleasure.
Tom gasped and seized hold of Harry’s arm again. This time, he saw the flood of magic that soared towards him, winding in white spirals through the air, latching around his wrist. Tom swayed on his feet, shutting his eyes. His mind buzzed and burned. He could have cast a spell at that moment and filled it with enough power to consume Dumbledore.
He had never felt this good.
Harry tore his arm roughly away. Tom opened his eyes, ready to protest, and Harry’s magic bounced him to the ground and bound his arms behind his back. Tom shifted. He could feel the shaft of his wand under his elbow, but there was no way he was going to be able to touch it.
“What the fuck was that?” Harry loomed over him, his face so pale that it would have glowed in the dark.
“I don’t know. But let me go so I can touch you again and we can find out.” Tom spoke calmly and clearly, his gaze on Harry. He refused to flinch or look away from the other man even as his arms started hurting in their bound position. At the moment, the main thing he wanted to do was get his hands on bare skin again. Harry would find it hard to argue with the pleasure that Tom could see reflected in dying sparks in the backs of his eyes.
“No. You did something, Gaunt.” Harry shook his head, face stripped bare for a second. Rage and hatred and fear lashed into the ground, and Tom looked down to see small black scorch marks appear there, the sign of Harry’s power. “I want you to tell me what it fucking is.”
“I promise, I wasn’t the cause of that. I think the two of us together were.”
Harry snarled at him and moved in. Tom waited only until Harry was a breath away from him, and then he tilted his head down and pressed his brow against Harry’s wrist where his robes had slid back to show his skin.
The same pleasure rose through him. Tom shut his eyes. He never wanted it to end.
He did something to me!
Harry felt as though he was drowning in urine, it was that disgusting. He had felt sorry for Gaunt, had comes close to deciding that he wasn’t really the same as Voldemort after all, and it had all been a trick. Harry was an idiot. He wanted to kick Gaunt in the head and force him to say what he had done, what spell he had cast—
Then Gaunt’s skin touched his again.
Harry felt as though lightning had frozen all the muscles in his body. He trembled with the pleasure that gnawed at the boundaries of his self-control. No one had ever caused a reaction like this just by touching him. He’d had sex that wasn’t this good.
Harry twisted away, and the sensations became less mind-blocking as their contact ceased. Harry wrapped his hands around his brow and breathed out harshly. His body trembled, then calmed. He was—he was going to make sure that—
“You are glorious.”
Gaunt’s voice was husky. That was Harry’s only consolation, that the idiot appeared to be affected by the spell he’d cast as much as Harry was.
“This is also a clumsy seduction attempt,” Harry said, but his voice creaked and he bit his lip in fury at himself. He turned and stared at Gaunt. Gaunt only stared back, his eyes frank. He looked as if he would have liked to cut his bonds and get to his feet, then come over and touch Harry again.
“Lift the spell you cast.”
“I didn’t cast it. I don’t know what caused it. But I can guess.”
Harry bared his teeth while his magic made small whirlwinds in the grass surrounding them. “What?”
“The Oracle told me there was a sign that would identify the Potter who could help my cause to me. It never explained what that sign was. But I think…” Gaunt’s eyes grew heavy-lidded. “This is as unmistakable a one as I could want.”
Harry Potter, the Chosen One, Harry mocked himself viciously, silently. Chosen to help a monster, no matter what. To be his Horcrux or help him take over the world. It’s never chosen for a good thing, oh no.
“I’m not going to help you take over the world. You are a monster.”
“I think we’ve established that I’m considerably saner than the Voldemort in your world, if only because I had my mother.” Gaunt was licking his lips and studying him with hunger that Harry would have thought he’d be smarter than to express. “You are—magnificent is the best word I can find. I would want you even without the magic tying us together.”
“I don’t want you.”
“Give me a chance to convince you.”
Harry’s magic this time formed a huge, invisible hand, and slapped Gaunt across the face. Gaunt turned his head with the blow, accepting it. The way he moved told Harry he must have dealt with something like this many times before.
And horror settled into Harry’s stomach, replacing the rage.
God, how do I know he wasn’t abused, just because he had his mother and wasn’t in an orphanage? Maybe the older Slytherins hurt him for being a half-blood. Maybe his uncle and his grandfather hurt him. And here I am, abusing him like all the rest.
Harry averted his eyes from Gaunt. The ropes, made of his will and his power, fell away at the same instant. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was—not right of me.” He veered towards Calliope’s house. At the moment, he actually needed someone to scorn him and make him feel small. It would agree with the accusations he was chanting at himself for ever striking a helpless man like that.
Gaunt came up fast behind him, and then in front of him. Harry’s magic coiled before he could stop it. He managed to stop the coiling with a choke. He didn’t want to hurt Gaunt again. He could hardly believe he’d hurt him like that once before.
Since coming to his second world, his life had been focused on the pursuit of peace. He assisted in births, he healed the helpless, he painlessly put some animals to death when they were injured or sick past the point of recovery. For him to hurt someone he’d rendered helpless ground in his head like a broken tooth.
“You want to make it up to me?”
Harry sighed and met Gaunt’s eyes. “Yes.”
Gaunt reached out and gripped his hand. Harry winced, his eyes opening wide as pleasure flooded him again. He didn’t take his hand from Gaunt’s, though. If this was part of his penance, then he’d pay the price.
“Duel with me.”
Harry blinked. “What will that prove?” He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold his magic back, no matter how guilty he felt, if someone hurled an offensive spell at him. It was hard enough holding back when he trained Jonquil, and he knew she didn’t mean him any harm.
“How powerful we are and how compatible our magic is, I suspect. That’s what I want if you’re going to make this up to me.”
Harry nodded slowly. “If you use Dark Arts, though, I’ll curse you back. Those are instincts I can’t control anymore.” He hated being reminded of his wartime self, but it seemed he would have no choice.
Gaunt smiled at him and pulled his hand back, fingers trailing across Harry’s palm. Harry gasped in spite of himself. He was learning to ignore the pleasure of Gaunt’s touch as he could ignore pain, but that sent individual streaks of strong sensation whirling up his arm to touch him in the center of his chest.
“That’s what I want to see. What you’re like when you’re uncontrolled.”
Harry closed his eyes and stood there, silently breathing, until Gaunt turned and walked casually down the road. Searching for a meadow or a field where their dueling wouldn’t be noticed, Harry suspected.
Harry opened his eyes at last and followed.
He would apologize for what he’d done. He would be as polite to Gaunt as he could. But he would still encourage him to choose Jonquil if he had to choose anyone.
Harry was finished being a weapon in anyone’s war.
Chapter 5: Matchless in Magnificence
“I can’t wait to see what you do with your wand.”
Harry rolled his eyes and turned to face Gaunt across the field he’d chosen. It used to be a place that Dorea ran her horses, but she’d sold several of them and moved the rest to a smaller pasture not long after Harry arrived in Godric’s Hollow. It still had a sturdy fence around it, which made it an easy boundary for Harry to place wards along. Gaunt raised an eyebrow as he watched Harry’s wand flick again and again.
“Why are you doing that?”
“I don’t want our spells to hit any spectators.”
“There aren’t any.” Gaunt was shedding his robes, carefully folding them and casting a spell that made them hover in midair instead of touching the grass. Harry snorted. Gaunt gave him a faint smile. “It’s all right to admire me, you know.”
“Jonquil does enough of that for a whole village. And there might be people coming along once the duel begins. I don’t want them hurt.”
Gaunt seemed to decide he could consider this and give it his approbation. He drew his wand, which Harry blinked at. It wasn’t yew, although Harry couldn’t immediately identify the dark wood. “What’s the matter?” Gaunt added.
“The other version of you had a yew wand.”
“The symbol of resurrection,” Gaunt said, and dipped his head a little. “For your sake, I’m glad that I don’t have one. I think I’m enough of a resurrection of bad memories for you.”
“One would think that you’d be glad to distress me,” Harry muttered, turning his head back and forth so that the muscles in his neck would loosen and his arms were gentle and relaxed.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Harry. If you think I do, then you don’t understand me yet.”
Harry froze, his eyes trained on Gaunt’s face. The smile there should have looked mocking, but it didn’t. Gaunt went on watching him with a fainter version of the smile as he scraped his foot on the dirt and cleared a small place that he evidently thought would make a better pad to launch himself from.
“You want to stop me, though,” Harry said. “You want to pay me back for the insults that I gave you, like the slap.”
“You’re doing that kind of thing because you don’t understand me or why I came here.” Gaunt’s voice was calm and patient in the way that made all the flesh between Harry’s shoulder blades feel as if it was standing on end. “Once you understand, then you’ll give in and come with me.”
Those words shocked Harry as if someone had plopped the sun into his eyes, and he took a step further back and shook his head. “You’ll never understand anything but war and conquest, Gaunt. I’m more than that.” And he unleashed enough of his magic that he could overpower Gaunt early in the duel, without using enough to kill him.
Gaunt’s eyes widened and he stared at the air as it became silver-edged and shimmering. Harry gave him a mocking smile and swept his wand in a long motion that made the air begin to spiral about him.
“The duel will begin when you count three,” Harry said.
Tom had heard of such things before—such spells that would make the air itself turn to knives—but most of the time, it required an elemental mage or someone to prepare the area beforehand. Harry fell into neither category.
But Tom had no doubt that if he reached out, the knives would slice through his hands as easily as material blades.
He sighed and put away the temptation to close with Harry, lay hands on his skin again, and lay him down in the grass while Harry was still struggling with the pleasure. He had to do something else right now if he wanted to impress him.
He closed his eyes and cast the spell that he had only seen once, in a grimoire he regretfully hadn’t been able to remove from Hogwarts’s library. In a second, a ghostly image of a phoenix hovered above him. Its beak opened and it sang a shrill, mournful note.
Tom opened his eyes again and watched Harry gape at him. He smiled. “One, two, three,” he chanted, and sent the phoenix streaking at Harry with a simple motion of his wand hand.
Harry leaped into the air to meet it.
And everything seemed to slow and change. The air around the phoenix turned that fugitive silver Tom had seen before, and the knives sprang to cut at its wings. At the same moment, Harry said softly, “Dimidius.”
His wand touched the phoenix’s ghostly head, and sheared straight through.
Tom stared as he watched his phoenix rip in half. For a second, it held onto life, or what life an image had, struggling madly, ripples running through its feathers. Then it became nothing but motes of light that trailed to the grass and nearly set it on fire.
The knives turned and flung themselves at Tom.
Tom dropped into a crouch and raised a shield of pure fire without a word. The cleansing flames, flames of sacrifice, melted most of the knives before they could get through. Those that could fell as harmless lumps of already liquid metal at Tom’s feet.
There was one blade that did strike him in the thigh. Tom grimaced and bent down to heal it.
Tom screamed and grabbed at his ears as a sudden, resounding call seemed to split his head in half. The echo chattered in his hearing, and he could feel cold sweat breaking out all over his body. The scream went on and on, his name, over and over, and he could tell how easy it would be to go mad with it endlessly repeating in his ears.
Tom forced his mind to work past that, though. He forced himself to picture the call as just another illusion, just a manifestation of Harry’s voice, and he barked Silencio! at the inside of his head.
The screams stopped. Tom dropped to his knees and bowed his head, because he could hear something whistling along, and with his luck, it was going to be at just head height.
The curse did go over him, another long-edged blade that looked like a flaming sword. Tom started to sit up, and the flames came snarling down towards him. Harry was flexing the spell like a whip.
Tom had never seen or heard of such a thing, but then, he hadn’t heard of that spell that made his name repeat in his head, either. He met the fire with a burst of water that made sizzling steam escape into the air and let Tom dodge behind it towards the edge of the fence.
A low growl behind him made him turn. Harry had Transfigured something, maybe a piece of wood from the old barn nearby, into a massive black dog. It crouched low and showed Tom its teeth, then sprang without flinching.
Tom used a simple Blasting Curse to hurl the dog from him. It slammed into the fence post and began to whimper as it bled. Tom raised a spiky shield behind him to slow it down and turned to face Harry again.
Who wasn’t there.
Disillusionment Charm? Tom shifted his feet slowly forwards, wondering if he could listen hard enough to detect any slight sound Harry made. With someone so battle-ready, it wasn’t likely, but he did want to try. Any slight advantage he could gain—
A tiny ripping noise, to his right. Tom turned in a tight circle, hand on his wand, tongue curling around curses.
And then something hit him on the back of the head. Tom staggered to his knees, blinded by the ringing pain and the certainty that he was about to lose the duel.
Harry dodged around in front of him. Tom made out the charm changing color a minute too late, but he could at least hurt his enemy. He muttered a curse that he had learned from a Dark book his mother’s ancestors had left behind in the Gaunt shack.
Harry shrieked as it wound about his feet, a serpent made of blue fire that burned its way through all defenses. Tom healed the wound on the back of his head with a gasp, watching as Harry struggled to shed the snake. Nobody could control that spell except the Gaunts, and Tom would already have used it except that he’d wanted the duel to continue a bit longer, to let them have the chance to impress each other.
Now he knew better. If Harry got in his way, he would simply play to win.
Harry turned his head and hissed between his teeth. It took Tom a second to realize the words were Parseltongue.
“Let go of me and return to your master.”
And the snake did exactly that, leaving Tom to gape in what felt like stupid astonishment at Harry. Harry, who was shaking his hair back, panting, and casting a numbing spell on his singed ankle, his Disillusionment Charm disrupted.
“If you could command it to do that,” Tom whispered, “why didn’t you do it right away?”
“Because some people have better things to do with their time.”
“Bollocks,” Tom said softly, bending down to pick up the fire-serpent without taking his eyes from Harry. “You didn’t want to show off your talent in front of me. You knew I’d find you more interesting if I knew you were a Parselmouth.”
“What,” Harry said, and there was a grim set to his eyes and a thing that wasn’t a smile on his lips. “I wasn’t interesting enough already?”
Before Tom could reply, Harry snapped a flailing chain made of ice at him, and the battle resumed.
I honestly don’t know if I can defeat him.
Harry limped backwards in a circle, favoring his left leg, where one of Tom’s conjurations had bitten him. Tom looked the worse for wear, too, with blood still running from the blow Harry had given him on the back of the head and the cut the knife had made in his thigh. Harry was a little surprised that hadn’t healed yet, but he hadn’t given Tom much time to cast healing spells, and his violent motions might have torn it further open anyway.
Most of the time, Harry fought as quickly and as dirtily as he could. The object was to end the duel or the battle as soon as possible, and give himself time to recover or move on to the next opponent.
But he’d been dueling Tom for almost fifteen minutes, and neither of them was ready to give up yet. Tom might beat him by sheer luck or persistence.
And I can’t believe that I’m calling him Tom. As if I was his friend.
“You have to tell me how you became a Parselmouth.”
“No, I fucking don’t.”
Tom sighed and rolled his eyes hard enough that Harry’s own twitched in sympathy. “The words expressing obligation are just a saying, Harry. I only meant that I thought no one outside my mother’s family had the talent, and here you are.”
“In another world.”
“So there might be many Parselmouths here?”
Tom sounded hilariously disappointed. Harry grinned at him and began drawing his magic close to his body, getting ready to cast the kind of spell he normally didn’t use in battle situations because it would disable him if he got it wrong. “What’s the matter, Tommy? Sad that you won’t be the most gifted one around?”
Harry swirled aside from the curse, which filled the air between them with horrific green light. It wasn’t the Killing Curse, but it was the spell closest to it outside the Unforgivables. The Destruction Curse lived up to its name, and simply destroyed everything in its path.
“Well,” Harry said, as he watched the spell condense into a furious sphere and blaze out of existence, “I suppose it’s nice to realize that you didn’t want me to survive.”
Tom stared at him. “I thought you would resist it.”
“My turn,” Harry said, and called up as much magic as he could and forced it out of his skin, at the same time as he dipped his wand to the level he could take advantage of it. “Glacies!”
The ice that raced out of him coiled around Tom in crystal walls, and in seconds only his head was free. Tom’s eyes bulged at him, and he tried to raise his wand. He couldn’t. It was caught down by his side, part of the ice. Harry thought about Summoning it, but that would break the ice, and Tom might manage to do something with it before it flew over to him.
“I win.” Harry waited for a second, but Tom didn’t speak any words of yielding. Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. “Are you proud enough to insist that you won, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary?”
“No,” Tom said slowly. He ignored the way that his chin jarred against the ice. “Just wondering why you didn’t do that in the first place, when you had the power to.”
“Because I wanted to convince you to back the fuck off,” Harry said. He watched Tom’s eyes, but he couldn’t read the way they changed, if it was surprise or something else. Well, he had been fooled by the diary shade the first time he met him, too. Harry was going to hang onto his senses this time. “If I’d just imprisoned you, then you would have demanded a rematch and probably always suspected you were stronger. I wanted to show you that you weren’t.”
“And you think that would make me desire you less?”
Harry started. The word desire was whispered as softly as if Tom really felt it. But a second later, Harry shook his head. “You’ve always been the master of the mind-fuck. I suppose that’s a trait that doesn’t really change from world to world.”
“Seriously, Harry. What were you trying to accomplish by showing me your power?”
“To make you back off!”
“Why would it? Because I need someone powerful if I’m going to change things in my world, and even if I gave up that ambition, I would want you because you’re powerful and magnificent and you shine.”
Harry shook his head sharply. That was sounding too much like some of the things people had said to him before he left his first world, where his magic had made ripples of distortion in the air. “Do you know how I opened the portal to come to this world?”
“You’ll tell me?”
Tom sounded delighted. Harry paused, but he hoped this story would do the trick where the duel hadn’t. “I didn’t seek out an Oracle or anything like that. I wanted a place where I could find some peace, which I couldn’t in a dimension with everyone staring at me with stars in their eyes. Hear that, Tom? The way you admire me isn’t special.”
“What I can offer you is.”
Harry gave up in disgust. He obviously wasn’t going to be able to convince Tom by taunting him about how smitten he was with Harry. “Anyway. I found a world. I learned the way to open the portal. And it’s open, and I can go back through it whenever I want.”
For the first time in the conversation, Tom frowned. “But how could you do that? The Oracle keeps mine open only because of the blood I spilled.”
Harry glared at him. “Yes, there’s a price. I used my magic to keep it open.”
Tom didn’t take long to work it out. “You sacrificed part of your magic?”
“Yes. I ripped it away. That should teach you, Tom, how powerful I was before, and how much power doesn’t impress me. There’s no way…”
Harry’s voice trailed off. Tom was looking at him as if Harry was treacle tart and he wanted to swallow every last bite.
“Let my hands go.”
“Not until you promise not to do anything to Jonquil that she doesn’t actually want.”
“Easily promised, then! I swear by my life and my hope of immortality.”
Harry paused, but he honestly couldn’t think of anything Tom Riddle—Gaunt, whoever he was—would hold more sacred than that. He nodded and shattered the ice with a glare. He didn’t need his wand to destroy things.
That was one reason he hated what he had become.
Before he could retreat, Tom was next to him, and he reached out and grasped hold of Harry’s arm, firmly, with both hands.
Harry went to his knees. The pleasure tearing through him was unreal. He could feel his skin flushing, his cock hardening, his breath quickening. He turned his head and leaned his forehead against Tom’s arm without thinking. The sensation intensified. Harry found his hips straining forwards in little aborted thrusts.
“Easily promised,” Tom whispered into his ear, and Harry tossed his head back at the sensation of the breath on his earlobe, “because I don’t intend to offer her anything at all.”
His grip on Harry’s arm remained firm as he maneuvered Harry to lie flat on his back, and slid a hand under his shirt. Harry writhed. Casually, Tom unbuttoned his shirt and eased it back, bending down to blow hot air over Harry’s chest.
Harry spread his legs and arched up. He wanted—this felt so good—he wanted to bring the same pleasure to—
Harry broke away with a shout and a twist of his legs. Tom sighed as he sat back on the grass and watched him. “How long do you intend to deny it and run away?” he asked.
Harry buttoned his shirt back up, fingers shaking, and didn’t answer. He grabbed his wand and stalked out of the pasture. It felt like Tom—Gaunt—had won, despite all the care that he’d taken to prevent that.
“I swear by my life and my hope of immortality,” Gaunt’s soft voice said from behind him, “you’ll be mine.”
Harry shot a Stinging Hex over his shoulder and reveled in the yelp, even if he knew it was mostly because Gaunt had been unprepared. He didn’t stop walking until he was in his bedroom in Dorea and Charlus’s house again, and then he pressed his forehead against the wall and waited for his shaky breathing to stop.
This is insane. But I’ll resist it. I’ll rip it away just like I did the rest.
I don’t want him.
Chapter 6: Ambition
Tom gave Arthur Potter a polite smile as he sipped at his tea. “Jonquil spoke of me while I was gone?”
“Yes, she seemed put out.” Arthur’s smile was kind, but the eyes that watched Tom across his glasses...Tom had seen eyes like them before, during most of his childhood when his uncle was still alive. “She said that she looked in several different places for you and couldn’t find you.”
“I was with Harry.”
“Ah. Well, I’m sure she didn’t think of that, since you appear to dislike each other.”
Tom waited. He could feel questions coming, and the sooner they happened, the sooner he could be alone to contemplate the consequences of the duel and his next move. Arthur shuffled a few cups around on the table and cleared his throat. Then he said, “I feel like the worst of formal fathers asking this, but what are your intentions towards my daughter?”
“Not to seduce her and carry her off to my world unsupervised,” Tom said lightly. It made Arthur chuckle, as he hoped it might. Then he shrugged a little. “I would be happy to teach her some more powerful magic, the way that she told me Harry was. Other than that, it would have to depend on her ambition and mine.”
“Jonquil’s always had powerful ambition. It’s part of the reason why she was in Slytherin at Hogwarts. But she’s never known what she wanted to do.”
“She wants fame? Fortune? Power?”
“Even that, I don’t think she knows completely. Although she did tell me last year that she’d like every wizard or witch in Britain to know her name.”
An ambition easily gratified if she came back with me to my war, though it would be a different wizarding Britain. Tom no longer thought it likely that he would accept Jonquil Potter as his companion, though. Not when he knew a far more powerful one who had the ability to almost make Tom come with a touch.
“Then she should start working on her magic,” Tom said firmly. “She could craft a powerful spell or a mighty invention. That would be one way to earn some of the attention she craves.”
“Yes.” Arthur sounded uncertain. “You think she could be famous and powerful? You aren’t making this up?”
Tom leaned forwards and let all the charm and quiet intensity that had lured some pure-bloods to his side in spite of themselves manifest in his voice. “Anyone has the potential to be great. But she’s going to have to focus. If she continues to sit around saying she wants to have achieved instead of achieving, then I don’t think she’ll ever be great.”
“She has a hard time choosing between all the careers she’s heard about.”
Tom did know that problem. At one time, it had seemed that making an actual decision would foreclose boundless spaces that he had the power to roam in as long as he never made that decision. All things might be his if he did not choose one.
And then he had grown up, and realized that he did in fact want one thing more than any other: a wizarding world where he could thrive, and be damned if anyone else did.
“Tell her to focus,” Tom said pleasantly. “It’s what I did. I mean no harm to your daughter, Mr. Potter.”
“Do call me Arthur.” But Arthur was already nodding, apparently as satisfied as Tom could wish that he wouldn’t get in Jonquil’s way or hurt her on purpose. “If she does decide to go back to your world, you’ll take her with you? You can visit?”
Tom blinked. “You have to realize, Mr.—Arthur, that the portal will close once I go back through it. The Oracle who opened it for me only did so so I could come here and seek out a Potter to help me in my quest.”
“Your quest is for what?”
“Power and fame,” Tom said, smiling slightly. “So it would suit Jonquil well, but only if she decides she wants those things.”
“All right. And I assumed your portal was more like the one Harry opened. He has it open so he can go back and visit his friends in his first world. But I don’t know much about other worlds, I’m afraid. Forgive an old man’s foolishness.”
Tom listened to his own voice say that there was nothing to forgive, while his vision darkened and his ears rang. He had thought—well, he had believed, he’d thought Harry had implied, that the portal had shut.
Of course it must. He had sacrificed his magic to open it, but to keep it open…
It became even more urgent that Tom get some time alone, and after he ate a thick sandwich and chatted to Arthur for a while longer, he managed to do exactly that. He stood a moment in the middle of his bedroom, composing himself, then lifted subtle charms that would make everyone who drew near his door remember pressing business elsewhere, before he slid his hand down his pants.
Most of the time, he disdained this action, and performed it only for the same reasons he ate, because unsatisfied needs might distract him at a critical time or interrupt his sleep. Now, he filled his mind with the image of Harry arching up to him on the grass of the pasture, his mouth open in a deep gasp; Tom twisted his fingers and rubbed thick, milky liquid in a circle as he remembered the duel and the magic.
Harry, staring at him with darkened green eyes. Anger had darkened them, but Tom could so easily imagine a different kind of passion.
The way he will look when I take him to bed. The way he will look when he agrees to come back to my world with me.
The way he will look when he yields.
Tom came with a choked gasp and an instinctive biting of his knuckles, a habit left over from his childhood at Hogwarts, when he didn’t want the other boys to know what he was doing. Then he spelled himself clean and sank, replete, onto the bed. This felt far more satiating than it usually did.
And that was only another sign that he would be making the right choice to ask Harry to come back to his world with him.
He fell asleep smiling.
"Harry. Can you tell me what you're doing with Tom?"
Harry turned around with a gentle smile. He had wondered if Jonquil would come and ask him this question, and he had prepared compassion for when she did, for all that Jonquil could be fiery. He didn't want to fight his own cousin, especially over someone who mattered as little as Gaunt.
Jonquil stood behind him with clenched hands and a haughty face, but her eyes revealed the truth of the question. Harry nodded to her. "You saw part of the duel?"
"I--I came and watched part of it when I felt your magic rising. I understand better now why you won't teach me all the magic that I want to learn." Jonquil took a deep breath. "I left before the end."
But she might have suspected the end. Harry nodded. "Sit down beside me, Jonquil." He had been sitting on a stump near the pasture that held Princess and her foal, weaving leather with magic and hands both into a new bridle. Jonquil conjured a chair next to him, so she was a little higher.
Harry didn't mind that. Contrary to what Gaunt thought, little assumptions of power never bothered him. It only started to raise his hackles when someone thought they could dominate him based on those little assumptions.
"You know that he might be my best chance at leaving here." Jonquil's voice was strained and quiet. "You have options. I don't."
Harry stared at her. He honestly hadn't realized she was that distressed. Or ignorant of her own talent and ambitions. "Jonquil, in just a few months you're going to be a talented duelist. You can at least leave here and teach dueling in London if you want while you figure out what kind of goals will make you happy."
Jonquil blinked. "But a few months won't make me reach the level of you or Tom."
"That isn't what most people want, though." Harry shook his head. "They want the kinds of spells that don't get taught in Hogwarts, the legal ones. And you can do some of the same things I can, just not as powerfully. The ice I imprisoned Gaunt in yesterday? You could conjure the same thing. You wouldn't be able to make it as strong as I can, but most people won't be able to break free, either, because they aren't as strong as Gaunt."
"You're so trained already..."
"I'm six years older than you, and I survived a war. Don't worry about it. Going through a war isn't the kind of thing I want for you, Jonquil."
"You know that I'll be going through a war if I go back to Tom's world with him."
Harry gave a short sigh and tangled his fingers in the leather of the bridle again. That was what mattered to him, making new things and improving old ones. He didn't understand people like Gaunt or Jonquil, who might find glory in destruction. But he didn't have the right to stand in her way, either. "At least let me train you so that you have a better chance of surviving if that's your choice."
"You really don't want him, do you?"
Harry gave her a wry smile. "I don't. Just because he's strong, that doesn't mean he matters to me. You matter to me because you're my cousin and bursting with ambition and want to do something with yourself."
"And you won't stand in my way if I want to go with him?"
"I won't, though I reserve the right to give you a lecture about all the reasons it's a stupid decision."
Jonquil put her head on her hand. "But I have to do something, you realize? Something that will keep me satisfied and teach me new magic and get me away from always having a family looking over my shoulder? I don't have any idea what it is even after training with you for months! This might be it!"
"Of course it might, but I also don't think waiting is a bad thing. You have some options now that you didn't have before, like having me help you become a more experienced duelist. You don't have to decide everything about your life the minute you turn eighteen, Jonquil."
"I'm almost nineteen now."
Almost the same age as Gaunt. As little as he wanted Jonquil to go with him, it comforted Harry in a strange way. The closeness in age might make Gaunt decide that Jonquil was the one he should choose after all, since he could mold her more easily than he could someone who was five years older than he was.
"I know, but the same principle applies. I know that you feel desperate because you don't know what you want to do, but that's all the more reason to look around and study different things and decide what you want to do from that. I wish I'd had the same freedom of choice when I was your age."
"I thought the war was over by then?"
"It was, but I entered Auror training because I honestly thought I had no choice. Not because I wanted to."
"And you didn't want to be an Auror?"
Harry shook his head. This was the one chance he had to explain his perspective to Jonquil without sounding like he was trying to make her decision for her. "No. Killing people, always living on the edge of alertness, destroying objects, reading reports--that's what it's really like, Jonquil."
"It sounds like it could be for me. If you're not understating things about the reports."
"They were a big part of it," Harry had to admit, but he smiled as he glanced at his cousin. He might have ghosts in his past, but she didn't. And he had to admit he liked her better for it, the way she was so determined to take on the world and win. "Have you considered training as an Auror? It might be better for you than being a soldier."
"I won't be a soldier. I'll be a warrior. A warrior Queen."
Jonquil's eyes were bright, and even though Harry thought her ambition would hardly be fulfilled in Gaunt's world either--because Gaunt wouldn't share power or set up a monarchy--he smiled again. "All right. Well, let me finish making this bridle as good as it can be, and then I'll show you some more spells."
He has no magical exhaustion at all. None.
Tom watched Harry covertly from beneath his lashes as they sat at Arthur's and Celandine's dinner table together. Jonquil was there, too, of course, and Dorea and Charlus, and Euphemia and Fleamont Potter, whom Tom had only met briefly. Calliope had apparently been invited but hadn't come. Tom intended to learn what she could tell him about Harry, but didn't know how much stock he would place in it.
Tom himself would need a day more to perform any spells of the level of complexity required in their duel. Harry had no pallor or lack of appetite, though. He laughed and joked with his cousins and his great-aunt and uncle--and his grandparents, as Tom supposed he must think of them--as easily as if he had spent yesterday asleep in a field at a heifer's feet.
Tom made a grimace at the thought of the animals Harry tended, and Harry sent him a mocking smile before he focused on something Euphemia Potter was saying. Tom studied her, too. She was a small woman with pale hair and blue eyes and a bright smile.
"You know that you're welcome to visit us at any time, Harry. Calliope is not with us all day every day."
"I do visit you plenty, Grandmother."
He has such delight in pronouncing that word. He had no family to be close to before he came here, I'm certain.
"I know that, but--" Euphemia sighed and reached out to rest her light hand on the back of Harry's. Tom felt his own involuntary bristling but kept it well away from his face. "You always act like a visitor. Not like a guest."
"Do I?" Harry blinked. "Well, I'll try to do better then. I'll come over and see you and Zachary and the children tomorrow, shall I? I heard Calliope mention that she would be attending her dance classes in London then."
"That would be perfect, Harry."
"Do make sure that your visit doesn't take the whole day, Harry." Dorea's voice was cool and would have passed as uninterested to the vast majority of listeners. "I think you should show Mr. Gaunt around the village."
"Oh, but Godric's Hollow is a small village and Mr. Gaunt is a powerful walker." Harry smiled, and Tom admired how many teeth he got into it. "I'm sure he's already seen all of it."
"Not the way that someone who lives here would see it."
"I'm afraid I do have a disadvantage there, Mr. Gaunt. I wasn't born here. But my cousin Jonquil was. She could escort you and show you all the village's little secrets."
"Yes, I could, Tom," Jonquil said at once. She smiled at him. Tom smiled back. "You must see some differences between this world and your own, don't you? You could figure out more of them by looking around Godric's Hollow."
"I do find it fascinating that you come from another world!" Fleamont Potter didn't seem to let his unfortunate name stop him from participating in the conversation. He brought his hands down on the table and beamed at Tom. "What would you say is the major difference between this one and yours?"
Tom considered it carefully, but only for a moment, his eyes fixed on Harry, who was eating a piece of roast beef with great determination. "It's more peaceful here," he said slowly. "I've heard no rumors of war or Dark Lords. We had them in my world, one of the Dark Lords recently. And even though technically there's no war at present, there's simmering tensions that could make one happen easily."
Harry's eyes rose to his. See me. Hear me. Listen to me, the way I listened to the conversation you had with your cousin earlier today.
"But also," Tom continued softly, "I think it's more stagnant here. With all due respect, Fleamont, Euphemia, Arthur, Celandine, I've read the books in your houses. They have no mention of spells that I think of as everyday charms and hexes. That speaks to me of a world that never needed to develop those defenses, but also never those innovations."
"More peace is always worthwhile."
Tom smiled a little. As he had thought it would, those words had lured Harry into the conversation. "But only if it doesn't come at a cost. If those spells had been developed here for peaceful purposes, I would agree this world is superior in every way."
"You should look through my books as well, Mr. Gaunt. I promise that you would find Darker spells in them."
"You're a Black, Dorea, of course he would." But Charlus looked immensely proud as he touched his wife's shoulder.
Harry stood up and stretched his arms above his head. Tom watched covertly. No, no sign of the muscles in his arms trembling, either. A man who could tear away enough of his magic to open and hold a portal, complete a duel like the one they had had, and then still be powerful enough to walk normally the next day...Tom could see why the Aurors in his world had snatched him up, but not why others hadn't.
"I'll clear the table," Harry said, and casually swept his wand to make plates, glasses, and cutlery follow him.
"I'll help," said Tom, and stood with a modest smile and a nod in reaction to the gratitude from the Potters. He saw Dorea smiling before he turned away to join Harry in the kitchen, and wondered what her goal was in trying to push him and Harry together.
Well, he would go along with it since it fit his own goals.
Harry ignored him completely, keeping his back turned as several separate spells filled the sink with soap and hot bubbling water and floated in the dinnerware by turns. Tom bent over him and slid his hand down Harry's arm. The stuttering of his breath and fluttering of his eyes were beautiful.
The spark that leaped up from his skin and blistered Tom's fingers was not.
"Keep your hands to yourself, Gaunt."
Not what Tom wanted, but he would take it for now. He worked next to Harry and scored a few more "accidental" fleeting touches to his wrist or arm that were too short for Harry to use his wandless magic with. Harry was snarling at him by the time they were done with the dishes, but Tom could make out the bulge in his trousers.
If one method of seduction doesn't work, I shall simply try another.
Chapter 7: Immunity to Seduction
“What are you doing here, Gaunt?”
“I thought I’d see how you spend your mornings.”
Harry lengthened his stride towards the stables without answering. Gaunt walked beside him, not attempting to touch him now. Harry was grateful. The abnormal reactions his own body had towards Gaunt disgusted him. They were almost certainly magical, but Harry didn’t care. He was master of his own magic. It shouldn’t be reacting like this.
“Why are you content?”
“I didn’t mean right in this moment, Harry. In general, why are you content tending to animals and living in an obscure village in a world that doesn’t have many chances for you to shine? What could you have come from that would offer this as a good contrast?”
Harry stopped outside the stable. He wasn’t about to bring the agitation he was feeling into Princess’s stall. He stared at Gaunt. “You’re strange.”
“I am a stranger, yes,” Gaunt corrected, still staring intently at him. “That does not mean I wish to stay one.”
Harry shook his head. “No, I mean, you’re strange to want to know everything about my background within days of meeting me.”
“You know part of the reason for that—”
“And I am never going to return to your dimension with you in order to fight a war.” Harry let his voice rise and enough magic come out that the ground trembled under their feet. Gaunt’s eyes widened, but only to reveal lust in the back of them. Harry pulled the magic back into him like fishline on a reel. “I fought my war.”
“Will you tell me about it, Harry?”
Harry eyed Gaunt. He was saner than Riddle, that much was true. And as reluctant as Harry was to either call up old memories or give Gaunt a reason to be more fascinated still with him, at least this might clarify to the sane bastard that he would never convince Harry to join him.
“Fine,” Harry said. “But I’m going to feed Princess first.” He turned away and hoped that Gaunt liked being ignored for a horse.
Tom smiled a little as he watched from the doorway of the stables—Harry had forbidden him to come any closer—while Harry fed and watered the mare in the stall, examined her for some reasons Tom couldn’t determine and did the same for the foal, and then draped a halter across the mare’s neck to lead her outside. At last he would know why Harry had come here when he didn’t fit into his surroundings, when he shone like a polished diamond no matter how hard he tried to hide that polish.
He stepped out of the way as Harry led the mare past him. Harry regarded him with narrow eyes. Tom resisted the urge to touch him. It hadn’t worked last night, and it wasn’t pleasant enough for him anymore just to watch Harry writhe. He wanted both of them joined in one purpose, one goal.
He followed Harry to the pasture where Harry turned the mare and her foal loose. Then he cast some more spells that Tom assumed were diagnostic ones. He didn’t actually know, and of course didn’t care. He draped himself on the fence and stared until Harry glanced at him and hissed softly.
Tom replied in Parseltongue. “You promised me a story.”
“Yeah, I did,” Harry said, refusing the intimacy of the language, which was a minor disappointment. He led them to a bench built on the opposite side of the field and watched the foal jump and butt and snap at his mother for a moment. Tom waited beside him. Harry finally turned to him.
“I was a propaganda figure in my first world.”
Tom raised his eyebrows. “That’s not how I thought this story would begin.”
“It’s the best place.” Harry stared past Tom’s shoulder for a second, then focused on his eyes again. “Look. You had a counterpart in that world, the Voldemort I told you about, but he was much older than either of us. He heard a prophecy that said I would be the one to kill jo,. So he came to kill me, when I was a baby.”
“Well, a toddler. I was fifteen months old.”
Tom clasped his hands together to stop the shiver of disgust from moving throughout his body. “Then he deserved whatever happened to him.”
Harry stared at him for a second, but rushed ahead with the story instead of asking. “He killed my parents first. He kept asking my mother to stand aside—I found out a lot later that someone asked him to spare her—but she wouldn’t, so he killed her. But that meant that she could use sacrificial magic to keep me safe, and she did. The Killing Curse bounced off me and returned and hit him. It destroyed his body and made him have to flee as a bodiless wraith.”
“He deserved it.”
“Why, for God’s sake?”
“Because doing something like that on the basis of a prophecy is stupid in the first place. He should have been skilled enough in Divination to know that. And in the second place, he was trying to hurt you.”
Harry shook his head instantly. “That’s not the point, Gaunt. It would have been bad for him to try to hurt any toddler, to kill their parents. It being about me undermines your point.”
“Because you should care about other people because they exist! Not because of who they are.”
Tom laughed softly. “You contradict your own moral code if that’s true, Harry. Because you despise me, and you care for your family because they’re your family.” At least he understood why, now. Growing up without parents, and, it sounded like, without siblings, would make Harry long for them fiercely. And once he learned that his mother had sacrificed herself for him, of course he would love her all the more.
I would have loved my mother for that.
“What happened after that? Who raised you?”
“My mother’s Muggle sister.”
Harry was staring at him, waiting for something. Tom stared back, not understanding how a simple declaration like that could prompt waiting. He finally shook his head and asked, “Is there something specifically I’m supposed to say?”
“My mother was Muggleborn.”
“I believe I have told you that I do not despise Muggleborns, Harry.”
Tom couldn’t help the caress in his voice on the last word. Harry jerked back, his hands clenched, and said in a clipped tone, “They didn’t tell me anything about the wizarding world because it made them uncomfortable. I only knew after I got my Hogwarts letter when I was eleven. Then I found out I was famous, because people thought I was the one who defeated Voldemort somehow, not my mum. They called me the Boy-Who-Lived.” The loathing in his voice made Tom unsurprised when a bright wheel of fire leaped into existence over Harry’s shoulder and spun, the emotions releasing themselves through magic.
“It’s a stupid name, yes.” Tom decided to test something and reached out to touch Harry’s fingers with the tips of his own.
He’d been right. A soft warmth burned between them instead of orgasmic pleasure. Harry still jerked back in a way that told Tom how little he was used to that sort of touch, his eyes wide.
“It depends on my intention in touching you, I think,” Tom said softly, memorizing the play of expressions on Harry’s face. He might see some like them when he convinced Harry to yield. “If I want to seduce you, then it inspires lust. If it’s sympathy, then nothing but gentleness.”
Harry jerked his eyes away and went rushing on. “Your older self kept trying to kill me in various ways. I prevented him from resurrecting himself a few times as a teenager, and then he finally managed it with a ritual that used my blood. After that, I had to fight him, but most of the wizarding world refused to believe that he was back and called me crazy and attention-seeking. Then one of his servants killed my godfather, and a trap he left behind killed my—well, my world’s version of Dumbledore.”
“How did the Minister get involved in that mess?”
“What? Gaunt, in my world Dumbledore wasn’t the Minister. They offered him the job, I think, but he refused it. He was the Headmaster of Hogwarts.”
Tom blinked. Then he said, “But still, how did he get involved?”
“He was the one who collected the memories of your younger self and showed me how to defeat you.”
Harry glared at him, but finally nodded. “Fine, not you. He was the only one that Voldemort was afraid of. He was stronger than him, and he refused to give in and fear him like other people. He even led a group called the Order of the Phoenix against him in the first war.”
“The second starting after he managed to resurrect himself, I suppose,” Tom murmured, but the comment was automatic. “I suppose some things are universal.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Minister’s secret Aurors in my world are called the Order of the Phoenix.”
“Oh. Um. Anyway. After that trap killed Dumbledore, then my friends and I fought back against Voldemort by destroying the means that he’d used to anchor himself to the world. And we managed to destroy most of them in time. There were only a few left by the time I faced him, and with help, I tricked him into thinking he’d killed me. Then I dueled him and triumphed over him.”
“And the war was over.” Tom was clever enough to know that Harry had left out most of the story there, and clever enough to know that asking for it right now wouldn’t help. “What happened after that?”
Harry sighed. “They decided that saving them once wasn’t enough. And they wanted me to be an Auror and their savior and hero and never do anything wrong. I didn’t have any privacy. They criticized me constantly via the papers for any slight mistake I made, which in reality was anything that contradicted their image of me. The people who dated me couldn’t get any peace, either. And fans tried to steal my possessions and touch me without permission and get me to donate to their favorite charities and blame me for not acting sooner against Voldemort, all at once.”
“What about it?”
“In my world, at least, magic of the kind you have would be enough to shut some people up permanently.”
Harry snarled, and the wheels of sparks popped into existence over both shoulders this time, so bright that Tom winced back from them before he thought better. “And you believe that I should kill people for things like that, Gaunt? That is yet another reason that I will never follow you to your world.” He stood up and stalked towards the pasture. “I’ve had enough of fighting and fame and being singled out and being told that I’m special and could shut people up if I wanted. All of it.”
Tom blinked at Harry’s back, and watched as he cast a few more diagnostic spells on the horses and then strode over to another barn. Tom didn’t follow. It wouldn’t gain him anything right now.
Tom leaned back thoughtfully. This was a more complex case than he’d thought. So Harry didn’t want to be special because he’d experienced too much of it, while Tom had hardly had a taste and wanted more. And he might not want to fight Minister Dumbledore in Tom’s world because he had fond memories of the meddling Headmaster from his first one.
I have to show him something he can do that isn’t getting showered with more fame or using his magic to hurt people.
Thinking around the edges of Harry’s story, Tom began to smile. He thought he knew exactly what to offer him.
“Thank you, Harry.”
Harry grinned at Marie, Zachary’s wife, as she stepped back and curtsied to him. She was kind of his aunt, since she’d married the son who’d been born to his grandparents in this world instead of James Potter. But she wasn’t much older than he was, and she had dark red hair that suggested she was related to Prewetts or Weasleys somewhere. She hadn’t wanted to talk about her family, though, so Harry hadn’t pried.
“No, thank you. I don’t know where I’ll ever use dancing lessons, but it was a little embarrassing to be so bad at it.”
“And it’s nice to know that I’m still a good teacher.” Marie smiled. “I’m thinking of applying to Hogwarts as a professor when the children are old enough. They used to offer dancing as a class. They should offer it again.”
Harry just let his grin widen. “I’m sure that you’ll be able to convince them.” His aunt, or his cousin’s wife, or however he was supposed to think of her, was a force of nature. Marie seemed to find infinite time in the day to do everything she wanted to do, whether that was practicing dancing, taking care of her children, gardening, or writing a book that was going to be on the history of wizarding dance.
Harry managed to turn around and fall into a crouch in time to pick up the armful of six-year-old who had hurled herself at him. Ally Potter—who already had a hatred for her full name, “Alcyone,” that would have done Ginny’s hatred for Ginevra credit—bounced on her toes and beamed at him. She had untamable black hair that she said she liked better since she’d met Harry. So that was at least one piece of good Harry had done Ally.
Merlin knows that she won’t let anyone else do anything for her. “Yes?”
“We’re going to watch Julian turn the garden red! Come with me!”
Marie waved calmly to him as her daughter almost ran Harry’s feet off under him. Harry let her take him to the garden behind Zachary and Marie’s house, a snug little cottage that reminded Harry of the Burrow more than anything else in Godric’s Hollow did. He saw Ally’s older brother standing in the middle of the garden, his eyes closed and his scowl fierce.
Harry didn’t speak. His nephew—cousin—whatever—was trying so hard to master his accidental magic, which had persisted in him longer than it usually did in children with happy childhoods. He kept telling Harry that someday soon, he would manage to make things float or turn different colors because he wanted them to, without the burning desire to escape or fetch a toy that some children had to have.
Harry sat down next to Ally and watched Julian continue to concentrate. Marie had gone into the house, he thought, probably to look after baby Clara.
Julian suddenly let out a loud, long breath and released his magic. It poured past Harry in a glittering cloud that he turned to watch. It landed on several of the blue roses that Marie prided herself on and—
Turned them maroon.
Julian opened his eyes, and his scowl got worse. “It was supposed to be red!”
“It’s still closer than I would have managed at that age.”
Julian turned his scowl on Harry. He had a habit of thinking everyone who praised him was trying to patronize him. “But you told me that you managed to Apparate when you were Ally’s age!”
“Yes, but I didn’t know what Apparition was or what it was called.” Harry only shrugged when Julian stared at him. “I told you that the first time I told you the story, too.”
Julian still didn’t look convinced. “But you did some things deliberately, right? You told me that you managed to open a cupboard and get your trunk out just by willing it when you didn’t have your wand.”
“It’s still nothing like this. It only happened under pressure. If you come up with ways to master wandless magic when it’s always deliberate and at your will, you’ll be ahead of me.”
“Okay,” Julian said slowly.
“I want to do it, too!” Ally jumped up and tugged on Harry’s sleeve. “Julian said you gave him lessons! Give me lessons!”
Harry smiled. “I just told him to concentrate and meditate. That’s all.”
“I can concentrate!”
“No, you can’t. You’re six,” Julian said, with all a nine-year-old’s superiority.
“Uncle Harry Apparated when he was six!”
“You’re not Uncle Harry!”
“I could be just as strong!”
Harry leaned back and smiled at his little cousins. This was exactly the kind of arguing that he could imagine driving Tom—whether he was Gaunt or Riddle—mental, and which he enjoyed. Families weren’t always right or nice, but they were important.
And Harry could never give this up to fling himself headlong into war again. Or give up healing animals. Or give up spending nights lying on his back in the grass and watching stars, which for the first time in his life, he had the leisure to do.
I’m fixed here. Immovable. You’ll need to find yourself someone better than me, Gaunt.
Chapter 8: Angelfire
“Tom, would you mind if I dueled you?”
Tom couldn’t have been more startled if someone had thrown a cabbage at his head. He set aside his cup of tea, the only thing left of his breakfast, and blinked at Jonquil Potter. “Why would you want to?”
“Harry’s been giving me some practice with spells that he’s willing to teach me, but he won’t teach me all that much.” Jonquil was leaning forwards a little, her eyes focused on him. “I don’t have a good measure of my power when I keep facing someone who doesn’t want to hurt me.”
“You think I want to hurt you? What would that do to the gracious hospitality your family’s offered me?”
“I think that you won’t care as much as Harry does, and I’ll tell you right now, I have more strength than you might think. And I want to be sure that I can actually face an opponent if I become a professional dueling teacher someday. That was a career that Harry suggested to me. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it makes sense.”
Tom disregarded the rest of the babble. Harry cared enough to try and tell his cousin, who had so many ambitions and so little ability to choose, what she should do in the future. Jealousy hit him like heartburn. If Harry would only give him a tenth of that attention…
“Tom? Would you be willing to duel me?”
Tom smiled and stood, Vanishing the rest of the tea from his cup with a wave of his wand. The Potters mostly didn’t have house-elves but did the dishes and the like themselves. “Of course. Do you want to come out now and I’ll measure your power level? I need to see what kinds of spells you can counter first.”
Jonquil’s eyes glowed. “Then I’ll be right there, as soon as I put on a less delicate pair of robes.”
When Harry feels the magic, he’ll come look. And if I can’t have his positive attention, the antagonistic sort will do.
Harry’s head whipped away from the pregnant cow he was kneeling next to when he felt magic blaze into life at the edge of the village.
Dorea was the one on the side of the cow, hands smoothing over her sides. She caught his eye and nodded. “Go attend to whatever you need to, Harry.”
Harry didn’t bother nodding back before he began to run. His skin was burning as if he was the one the spell had been cast on. A powerful Dark fire spell; he recognized that one from when an ex-Death Eater had attacked him in his second flat back in his first world. The spell had burned everything he owned at the time to ashes, except the Invisibility Cloak and the album with his pictures in it, which Harry had protected with multiple, layered defenses. The Death Eater had been terribly surprised when Harry stomped out of the flames and melted her nose.
He ran down paths and through fields, the sensation of power leading him better than any of his normal five senses could have. He was in time to see Jonquil dive to the ground beneath a streaking comet of flame that slammed against the sides of a nearly transparent bubble and dissipated.
Opposite her stood Gaunt, shaking his head with a faint smile. “How are you going to be a dueling instructor if you can’t do something like this?” he asked, and cast another spell, wordlessly. Harry recognized the wand motions for Fiendfyre.
He leaped forwards, and his magic opened around him like steel-edged wings, cutting straight through the sides of the bubble. Gaunt swung around to face him. The Fiendfyre that had become to come into existence on the end of his wand was already fighting his control, struggling to get out and burn.
Harry reached out and cupped the Fiendfyre in his hands. He blew on it, and the beginnings of chimeras and basilisks disappeared like a candle flame.
Gaunt was staring at him with wide eyes. Harry listened until he could hear Jonquil’s rapid breathing and said, “Why don’t you go home, Jonquil? You won’t find the bubble blocking your path of retreat anymore.”
“He didn’t hurt me.”
“I’ll handle him.”
Jonquil didn’t bother speaking again. Harry did a spot more of listening, until he could make out her footsteps disappearing in the right direction, and then he took a long, sliding, stalking step towards Gaunt, his fingers still cupped the way they’d been when he vanquished the Fiendfyre.
“She asked me to duel her.”
Harry didn’t bother to respond. He breathed across his fingers again, meeting Gaunt’s eyes all the while, and white flame spring up from his hands, turning his skin almost transparent as it highlighted the bones. Harry spread his arms then, and the white glow spread along his arms, his shoulders, his spine, twisting up into the images of phoenixes, winged horses, unicorns.
“What the hell is that?” Gaunt’s voice shook.
“Angelfire. The opposite of Fiendfyre.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“There is when I invented the spell.” Harry snapped his fingers, and the flame reformed itself into images of vast white wings, bending forwards around him and spreading out their elongated feathers to completely encircle Gaunt. “And do you know what it does? Creates, Gaunt. Heals. Purifies. And on someone like you, forces you to disclose the darkest secrets you carry and your true nature.”
Harry punched his hand forwards. Power rode along with it, the Angelfire becoming a thin white spear, and then it pierced Gaunt’s body and sent him reeling back. Harry held him there, panting, his eyes wide.
In a few seconds, darkness began to leak from his body. Harry deliberately ignored the black blood of a Horcrux it reminded him of, and watched as it whirled up into pictures of the past.
Let’s see what sort of a man you really are, Tom Gaunt.
Tom found himself looking out through his own eyes, but at the same time detached in a way, the vision of his memory overlapping with a vision as if he was floating in the air and looking at himself from above.
He was playing in the dirt outside the shack where his mother and uncle lived. He had a bone spur in his hand and was turning it back and forth while a glittering black serpent watched him intently.
“You play with that toy often,” the black snake said.
“Why would I not? It is the only legacy of my grandfather left to me.”
Tom pushed hard with his magic, remembering now what would happen next and trying to force Harry back and out of his head. He had no right to see this, no right to pry where he was unwanted.
But nothing happened, except the memory proceeding the way he knew it had.
“I can show you where other toys lie. It would be less boring than playing with that one all the time,” the serpent said, wreathing back on itself.
“Then I will come with you,” said the young figment of his imagination, and jumped to his feet, and followed the serpent down a slope and into a tangled thicket that he had to push through. He ignored the scratches on his hands. He’d already received worse than that by the time he was this age.
Tom pushed again. Nothing changed. He was still hovering above his body and walking down that path following the snake at the same time. He thought he could feel a pulse of magic just behind him that must be Harry’s presence. It didn’t move, either.
The snake finally led him into a small clearing between tall trees that the young Tom would never have found without help, and bobbed its head at him in the way that all those snakes who spent much time around the Gaunts learned to communicate. “This is the source of your toy. This is the source of many other toys.”
The young Tom Riddle already knew how to read, but he still had to squint at the words roughly incised on the gravestone to force them to make sense. “Marvolo Gaunt,” he finally read. “That’s the name of Mother’s father. What is this?”
“The place where toys come from.”
Some emotion, finally, from that impulse of light and magic behind him that Tom thought was Harry. There was horror, and pity. Tom yanked and shoved again, but the only thing that changed was his younger self’s eyes lighting up.
“Mother said that magic could be made from bones. It’s the reason that she gave me that one. But I never knew it was Grandfather’s actual bone.” Tom faced the gravestone again. “Are there others here? Do you think I could make powerful magic with them?”
The snake slithered into the undergrowth. There was only so much time a snake would spend on anything other than food, and it was bored now.
Luckily, the memory dissolved and whirled away before Tom, or Harry, was forced to watch himself delve into the beginnings of his necromancy, but it opened on another near as humiliating. Tom was bent over in a Hogwarts corridor, coughing so hard that he thought blood would come out of his mouth at any second. Over him stood two sixth-year Slytherins, their faces bored more than anything in the dancing shadows of the torchlight.
“Remember your place, half-blood. You’re not to speak to another pure-blood the way you did tonight. Understand?”
How Tom wanted to grab his wand and lunge at them—or at Harry, for forcing him to relive something he had put behind him as much as possible. But he couldn’t, not with that curse to his stomach, so he only nodded and watched through narrow, hate-filled eyes as they turned away. Barbaras Crabbe and Marcellus Flint. He would remember them. They were the first two he took revenge on when he began to rise in Slytherin’s power hierarchy.
But that didn’t change the fact that they had once made him clutch his stomach and tremble in front of them. Nothing would ever make up for that.
The memories swirled and turned again, and Tom found himself standing in the middle of the field where he had gone to commit his first murder. It should have been easy. He stood and stared at his bound victim, his father, in silence for so long that his hand began to shake around his uplifted wand.
All he had to do was cast the Killing Curse, which he had already used to great effect on rats and all sorts of creatures in the Forbidden Forest where he had practiced it. And then the man who had shamed his mother and bestowed a Muggle name on him would be dead.
The locket lay next to him, cold, gleaming, waiting.
But Tom could not cast the spell. He thought of his mother’s eyes when she spoke of her love, even if it had only been genuine on her side, and created by love potions on the Muggle’s. It should have been easy. But it was not.
In the end, Tom turned away, sick with himself, and cast a curse that would give his father horrific nightmares every night instead. Then he unbound the ropes and plunged onto the path that led up to the hill overlooking Little Hangleton, taking Tom Riddle home without caring about the trees that his head struck on the way, or the branches that whipped past him and scored his face and hands.
He went back only to collect the locket, and place it back where Uncle Morfin would look for it, as he always did every morning. Morfin was obsessive about the locket and the ring, the only treasures of the House of Gaunt that remained.
That memory burned Tom up, and he went back to pushing. It seemed to him that he almost removed the floating presence of Harry from the back of his head, that in another moment he would succeed—
And then the world tore around him, and spilled him into the most hated memory of all.
Tom stood in front of the great Albus Dumbledore, the Minister of Magic, the most powerful wizard in the world, and held his breath. He hoped that Dumbledore would recognize the sincere intentions behind Tom’s plea, even if Tom also planned to lead a revolution for this pathetic world soon enough. Dumbledore, like Tom, was a half-blood. Like Tom, he had immense amounts of power. Like him, he had been a prodigy at Hogwarts, and praised for his academic performance, but then had dropped out of sight for some years before he achieved the pinnacle of power.
They had so much in common. Dumbledore could advance Tom’s career so much if he only chose to.
But instead, the Minister gave him a vague smile and turned to greet Abraxas Malfoy, a pure-blooded classmate of Tom’s who couldn’t muster a tenth of his magic or his good marks or his drive. Abraxas was actually embarrassed and tried to say, “Minister, this is Tom Gaunt. You may not know him, but I think he’s going to change the world someday.”
“Mmm?” The Minister glanced at Tom again. “Perhaps so, but changes aren’t always for the better.”
Tom ignored the feeling that everyone in the ballroom was looking at him, and said simply, “You did it, sir.”
“Yes, but I have wisdom to temper the wish. You are, what, eighteen?”
“Nineteen, sir.” Tom didn’t say it between clenched teeth only because he was forcing himself not to do so, as hard as he could.
“Nineteen doesn’t know what it wants. Nineteen might get its hands on strong magic or important artifacts—” Dumbledore looked at him in a way that made it clear he could see through the dampening charms that Tom was using on his own power and aura “—and then make the worst possible decisions because of them. Come back when you have wisdom, boy.”
He left. After embarrassing Tom in front of several of his most important pure-blood friends, he simply left.
Tom shivered as cold wrapped around him. For a second, he thought he would collapse, but instead, he found himself simply soaring out of the darkness of memories. He was back in the field that he had dueled Jonquil in, on his knees—of course—with the Angelfire Curse retracting back into Harry’s hands.
Harry was staring at him, motionless.
Tom said nothing. There was nothing he could say that was less damning than the memories that Harry had seen, had absorbed, and understood now. Now he understood that Tom was weaker than he pretended, and incapable of gaining the attention of the powerful, and had started dabbling in Dark magic that Harry would disdain from a young age. He did glare at him, but words were beyond him.
He tried to make a Horcrux, but he didn’t succeed.
No wonder he wants to use pure-bloods. He didn’t forgive them in his world. Or their usefulness as tools for his cause hasn’t outweighed what they did to him.
Harry’s thoughts moved as slowly as tar. He swallowed back the first several things that came to mind. He had used Angelfire before, on some of the former Death Eaters in his world, but their secrets had all been things that had made him despise them. Here, he just felt sorry for Tom.
And some of that sorrow came from what he had just done, rather than anything Tom had.
I’m calling him Tom again. But that wasn’t important next to the thought—the only thought—of how he could make up for this. Harry raised his head. Tom tensed, still glaring at him. Almost anything he could say would smack of pity and be a mistake right now.
Instead, Harry said quietly, “There are things I didn’t tell you about my first world, partially because I didn’t want to give you ideas. But I’ll tell you now. I owe you for how painful that was. Would you like to watch with me while I use the Angelfire on myself?”
Tom tensed further, but didn’t move. Finally, he said, “How can that work? I would have to use the spell to be present during your memories, and I don’t know it.”
And he can hardly cast it right now, with the magical exhaustion I inflicted on him. Harry repressed the wince that would only drive Tom further away. He cocked his head. “There’s a variant to the charm I can cast that will bring you with me. But only if you want to.”
“Yes,” Tom said, and his voice was savage. “I want to see your soul bleeding, Harry Potter.”
Harry nodded, once again not allowing himself to flinch. “Okay.” As he drew his wand and made the first motions that would summon the Angelfire, he realized one good thing about this.
If nothing else, he had made Tom stop wanting him.
Chapter 9: Harry's Life
Tom found himself hovering in the middle of a darkened room, with a cot in front of him. There was a young baby in the cot, holding onto the bars and staring with wide green eyes towards a woman who stood in front of him with her arms spread.
“Stand aside, you silly girl, stand aside now,” said an impatient, high voice that made Tom want to shudder in every limb.
The woman begged and pleased for the baby’s life, and died by a Killing Curse. Then a pale-skinned being with red eyes and a yew wand moved slowly forwards and aimed his wand at the baby, and Tom stared and went on staring as he watched the Killing Curse reflect and the infant begin to scream.
There had been a flare of dark power around the impact of the Killing Curse on the murderer’s body that he had read about but never seen.
He had no time to be certain as he was picked up and whirled through a blur of memories that were more like paintings laid on top of each other than one coherent image. A boy chasing a younger Harry, distinctive even then for his brilliant green eyes and the shagginess of his hair. A woman opening a cupboard door and yelling at the boy curled inside it. Cooking and cleaning and gardening and laundry, all Muggle chores that Harry did with his teeth gritted and no sign of magic. A thin Harry being shoved into his cupboard with nothing while all the others sat down with full plates. The woman swinging a heavy pan at Harry’s head, and his dodge away. Constant repetitions of “Freak, freak, nasty, wicked,” until Harry dreamed of them the way he dreamed of the green light and his mother’s death.
Tom was shaking as he watched Harry avert his eyes from food and tell a succession of lies to adults about him being fine, his relatives were just bad about time, or they were poor, or they loved him but he liked to stay out late. No wonder the Angelfire charm had chosen to present them this way. There were so many bad memories, so many dark ones, that it would have taken forever for Tom to view them in real time.
The way Harry had experienced them. Years and years of them.
Knowing there must be some impression of Harry here, watching them, as there had been an impression of himself watching his own memories, Tom tried to reach towards him. To comfort him. But nothing happened.
The memories whirled and began to slow down to show Harry in Hogwarts. Tom watched Harry walk through a doorway that promptly filled with flames behind him to face down a turbaned man in front of a mirror. He paid little attention to their argument, instead staring at Harry. He was shivering and small and skinny, but there was an expression of such determination on his pale face that rocks would have cracked on it.
I can’t force him to come back to my world with me. Nothing is ever going to do that.
Tom’s attention sharpened when the adult unwound his turban and exposed a terrible slit-eyed face on the back of his head. That was the same as the face of the killer who had confronted Harry when he was an infant, the same as the face of Lord Voldemort.
What did I become in this world?
Voldemort forced Harry to fetch the Philosopher’s Stone for him from the mirror—even in the midst of his doubt and wonder Tom tried to memorize those details, so he could backtrack from them later to figure out the enchantment that had kept the stone there—and then there was a fight where Harry lunged forwards and clapped his hands to the man’s body. The man shrieked, and white flames sprang out from Harry’s hands, crisping and withering the skin. Harry was screaming with agony as well, but he hung on, until Dumbledore and a man Tom didn’t recognize came charging through the doorway, and his assailant was ash.
That memory ended as if a curtain had been drawn across it, and Tom found himself panting.
God, what a life he’s had. Killing someone at eleven. Even Tom had never thought of starting that young.
The curtain ripped aside, and Harry, looking only a little older, ducked through corridors with his head bowed while all around him people whispered “Heir of Slytherin” and “Petrifying people,” and basically blamed him for being a Parselmouth. Tom wished he had fists to clench. He would show them what being a Parselmouth truly meant, if only he could get to them.
The memory stretched like treacle, and Tom watched as a basilisk loomed over Harry and drove a fang through his arm. That Harry remained alive after that, and conscious, rather than fainting from the pain, told Tom a great deal. He made mental notes to ask Harry about the questions it inspired later.
Then he saw himself.
Well, a shade of himself, transparent and smiling and a few years younger than he was now, but still looking enough like he did to explain Harry’s shock at the sight of him. Tom listened in silence as the shade laughed and expounded on his plan, never making a movement to kill Harry.
I would have. You can’t just assume that basilisk venom is going to be enough to kill an enemy that determined.
He had already figured out that the shade was a Horcrux, but it was still shocking to watch Harry, his eyes aflame with hatred, draw himself up and plunge a basilisk fang into the diary the shade had come from. Black blood covered his hands. The shade was screaming as it faded. Harry panted and leaned against the wall for a moment.
Then he was on his feet, scooting over to the young girl he must have come to the Chamber to rescue in the first place, making soothing noises when she opened her eyes and began to moan. Tom watched in silence. He would have left the girl there, if only so he could go to the surface and lead adults back.
He would have wanted to look like a hero, but not to the extent of comforting someone who was the reason he was in this situation in the first place.
But Harry made those soothing noises, and finally curled the girl’s arm around his shoulders and staggered to his feet. His face was resigned, quiet. The phoenix that had healed him led them out of the Chamber, and Tom was left to stare at the ruined diary in the moments before the darkness came trickling back to bring him to another memory.
No wonder he came rushing when he thought I was hurting his cousin. He must have reenacted this memory in his head.
This time, the memory was more than confusing. Harry was in a small, dusty room with two other children and three adults, all of them shouting at each other. Tom, listening as fast as he could and with as much concentration as he could while still keeping most of his attention on Harry, discovered that one of the men was thought to have betrayed Harry’s parents, but it was actually the sniveling one in the middle, who had apparently been hiding as a rat for over ten years.
Tom curled his lip. He did understand the value of cowardice and caution when necessary; there was a reason that the Sorting Hat had never considered him for Gryffindor House. But to do that, after a betrayal, and then snivel at people and try to convince them that you deserved to live? It was ridiculous.
When the shaggiest of the men, the one who had been accused of the betrayal in the first place, lifted his wand, Tom could only smile approvingly.
And then Harry thrust himself in between them.
“You can’t kill him. You can’t.”
Tom watched the rest of the scene in silence. It was—there were no words for Harry’s words, for the way that they seemed to transform his face. Black tried to reason with him, and Harry only said, “He can go to Azkaban…but don’t kill him.”
Tom shook his head in silence as that memory turned into one of confronting a werewolf because the ragged adult, Lupin, had forgotten to take the potion that would apparently keep him under control. An intriguing idea, and one that Tom intended to ask Harry about later, but for now, he couldn’t look away from the pale-faced boy who faced down the werewolf and barely escaped death or infection.
How could he not want to hurt the man who was the reason he didn’t have parents anymore, as Black had reminded him? And how could he not want to hurt the children in the next set of memories who muttered resentfully that he must have cheated to enter a tournament, or the person who had ensured that he had to swoop dizzyingly around a dragon in order to retrieve a golden egg?
No wonder he doesn’t want to come back to my world and join in my war. He’s been at war essentially his whole life.
Tom had not cringed before at any of the memories, but he had to as he watched Voldemort rise from a cauldron in the middle of a graveyard. The way he spoke to his followers, the way he cast a torture curse on a bound Harry and then failed to defeat him when they dueled, and the way he looked were all horrific.
I could have become that. But I didn’t. And as Tom watched Harry disappear into the whirl of the Portkey, hauling the body of his friend, he began to hope that might have a chance after all. Harry would see Tom’s weakness, the way he couldn’t even kill his father to create a Horcrux, as a strength.
The next year was horrible, again a series of memories overlaid with shadows. Tom watched Harry reel with grief and anger, experience prophetic dreams, try to connect with Dumbledore and have no success, have his mind torn apart in Occlumency “training” that had nothing to do with any art of the mind as Tom understood it, and be vilified in the press. But there were two memories that stood out among all those.
One was Harry writing with a blood quill and watching in silence as the words appeared on the back of his hand. He went to one friend for help, no one else. Even then, he seemed to accept that there was nothing any of the adults around him were willing to do when he was being tortured.
And the last memory of that particular year, or at least Tom thought so based on how Harry looked, was the shaggy man, Black, who hadn’t betrayed his parents falling through a veil that made Tom want to shy away. He could feel how soaked in death magic the thing was just from watching a memory; he would never have willingly come near it if it actually existed.
And Harry’s heart nearly shattered after that, as his last hope of a family disappeared. Tom drew a shaky breath. Yes, he understood why Harry clung so fiercely to the Potters now. Tom had as much chance of persuading Harry to leave them as a leaf did of standing up to a hurricane.
But he still intended to try, because there was so much he understood now, and so much in him aching and yearning towards Harry.
Compared to the memories of Harry’s fifth year, the memories of the next two were almost tame, until the end. Tom winced again as he watched Harry draw a replica of the locket Horcrux out of the potion, but he had to admit that Dumbledore’s death was only satisfying, at least to him. He could feel sorry for the grief Harry had experienced without sharing it.
And then Harry, almost dying—when Death Eaters attacked him, when they sneaked into the Ministry to retrieve the real locket Horcrux, when it twined about his throat as he dived into an icy pool to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor, when they were brought to a house Tom recognized as Malfoy Manor, when they broke into Gringotts.
And then Harry found out that he was meant to die.
Tom was still, eyes locked on the image of Harry walking into the Forbidden Forest accompanied by the shades the Resurrection Stone had called forth. Harry’s eyelids drooped, and covered what Tom was sure was weariness and resignation, not tears. He had thought all his life that he might die battling Voldemort. Here he was, on his way to do it.
There was no way that Tom could have stood in front of his enemy like that and accepted the blow of the Killing Curse, no way that he could have opened his eyes in the white train station and listened calmly to Dumbledore’s explanation of the destroyed Horcrux. Dumbledore was the one who had made it necessary for Harry to walk to his death! Didn’t that matter to him?
Apparently not. Harry listened, and he chose to go back. The memory faded after that, so presumably Voldemort’s actual death wasn’t that horrible for Harry. Only those moments when his own fate hung in the balance.
For a short space of time, when he hovered and burned in the darkness, Tom was convinced that was the end. He had certainly seen more than enough to open a door into Harry’s soul.
But then transparent overlays of images began marching past again.
Harry unable to complete a simple trip to the shops without people mobbing him. Harry dodging Killing Curses from former Death Eaters and losing his possessions in fires that were set to kill him. Harry standing over graves with his head bowed and having to snarl away reporters who tried to approach him. Harry feeling his magic growing, huge and lazy, after the destruction of the Horcrux inside him—which had apparently suppressed it—and the cold, sick desperation that filled him.
Why? Tom sought the source of the desperation, a vaguer image than the rest, just Harry sitting in his chair and staring at his hearth while sparks leaped around his hands.
Because if I lash out at someone trying to kill me now, I’ll cause a whole lot of harm I didn’t intend.
The ending of the memories came with a jolt so harsh that Tom gasped. Suddenly he was kneeling on rough dirt and staring up at Harry, who regarded him with shadowed eyes. Then he held out his hand and pulled Tom to his feet.
“Now you know,” Harry said. “Why I can’t go with you, why I’m never going to be a weapon in a war again. I don’t think you participating in a war is a good idea at all, or Jonquil. But I can’t actually control you. Just try to persuade you.”
Tom closed his fingers gently around Harry’s arm. There was no spark of burning pleasure like the ones they had felt in the past. Instead, the same soothing, gentle warmth he’d mustered before made Harry’s eyes flutter briefly closed.
“I think you’re the most fascinating person I’ve ever met,” Tom whispered.
Despair made Harry feel as if he was falling off a cliff for a second. Then he pulled his hand away from Tom’s hard enough that Tom gasped.
What do I have to do? I showed him the real me, the darkest me, the me who is so different from what he thinks I am. I thought he would think I was weak, since he thought he was weak when he couldn’t make a Horcrux.
But no, Tom was staring at him with a quiet reverence that made Harry want to laugh and claw at his face, at the same time.
“Did you fucking listen to me?”
“In all your memories. Yes.”
“I’m never going to war with you. I’m never going to abandon my family for you. Go the fuck away.”
“You don’t know exactly what I’m thinking. The Angelfire only gave you a limited pass into my private thoughts.” Tom brushed some dirt from his robes, and his eyes never wavered. “How strong is your magic?”
“You’ve felt it.” Harry felt another ripple of resentment pass through him. That had been something people asked him in his first world all the time, too, after Voldemort was defeated. He answered Tom as he’d answered them. “I’m not going to be your weapon.”
“I didn’t mean that. I want to know if you had magic powerful enough to hold another portal open.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “What? You’re lying about something, Riddle.”
“No, I’m not.” Riddle peered earnestly at him. No, Gaunt. Or call him Tom, since you know so much about each other. “I was thinking that if you stabilized the portal that brought me here the way you did the one you’ve opened, you could return here and visit your family whenever you want. But also still come with me to my world.”
Harry’s first thought, amazingly, wasn’t of the way Tom was trying to use him. He thought instead, That would mean I could get rid of some more of my magic. I could be closer to normal—
But he didn’t want to leave this dimension. It was amazing how close Riddle had pushed him to forgetting that. Harry steadied himself with a snap of his muscles and shook his head. “I have no interest in finding out.”
“You might as well know that I’ll never stop pursuing you.”
“Why?” Harry know that he sounded childish, giving that cry, but he couldn’t help it. “You’ve seen what I am! I walked to my death rather than try to save myself! I’m never going to be the killer you need.”
Tom smiled at him. “But you live to help others. And if you could see what Dumbledore and others in power are doing to my dimension, I think you wouldn’t be able to remain here and be complacent.”
Harry clenched his hands. He managed to keep his voice calm. “There must be thousands of dimensions where people are in trouble. I can’t go and save them all. That isn’t going to get me to come with you, Tom.”
“I thought I would tell you about it, though. And after seeing who you are and what you can do—”
“You just want the power.”
“No,” Tom said quietly. “I want the man, the survivor, who walked through dozens of horrific moments and come out on top. I want the man who cares so fiercely for his family that he sought them out in a totally different world. I want the man who’s modest enough that he thought showing me this would scare me off.”
He leaned up and quietly kissed Harry on the lips. There was no burning passion between them at that moment, either. It just felt like an ordinary kiss.
Which scared Harry more than facing the basilisk had.
“I’ll still talk to you about it,” Tom said, drawing his cloak up. “I’ll still try to seduce you into coming with me, and you’ll try to resist it. But I don’t see the point of lying to you now. Because there’s something I want even more than I want help in my war or your power.”
“What’s that?” Harry hated the way his voice sounded.
Tom smiled at him over his shoulder. “For the man I just described to care for me, too. And lying to you is not going to accomplish that.”
He turned and walked away. Harry stared after him, and then closed his eyes.
It’s all going to end in disappointment in the end. For Jonquil and Tom, if not for me.
Because I can never be what he needs. There’s too much history there.
Chapter 10: The Sound of Trumpets
“Harry? Can I talk to you?”
Jonquil’s voice was as tense as a tightrope strung between towers. Harry turned away from the book spread out on his lap and swallowed the last of his cheese-and-pickle sandwich. “Sure, Jonquil. Come in.”
His cousin walked in and sat down on the chair in front of his desk, her whole body so tight that Harry winced watching her. But he had to wait her for to begin, because he had no idea what angle she would come at this from.
When she finally spoke, her voice quivered. “Tom wants you and not me, doesn’t he?”
Oh, Jonquil. Harry would have got up and gone over to her if he thought it would help. But as it was, he stayed still for a second, and then nodded. “He does. But that’s because he’s a fool.”
“He’s intelligent.” Jonquil rubbed her eyes with her elbow for a second. “He knows what he wants. You can’t blame him for that.”
Harry shook his head. “But I’m never going to want him back. I have no reason to leave this world. I won’t go with him to fight a war, either, since I’ve given up on wars. If he still thinks that he can somehow force me to go along with him, or seduce me, then he’s not nearly as intelligent as you think he is.”
Jonquil didn’t immediately respond, keeping her head down. Then she whispered, “But he doesn’t want me, either.”
“No. I think the most likely conclusion is that he’ll give up on trying to get something from us eventually and leave, once he realizes that he doesn’t have the time to waste if he’s serious about changing his world.”
Jonquil said nothing, although from the corners of her face and the way they moved, Harry could tell she was frowning. Then she murmured, “What if I said that I would go with him, and not require him to be my lover or boyfriend or anything like that? Just be my friend?”
Harry raised his eyebrows. Before he saw into Tom’s soul, he wouldn’t have believed him capable of friendship, but he knew better than that now. “Well, I think friendship is a rare thing for him, so it still might take more persuasion than it would for most people. But you could try.”
Jonquil nodded slowly. Then she glanced at him. “I have to know one thing.”
“How can you not want him?”
Harry softened his smile as best as he could, reminding himself that Jonquil was still young, and she hadn’t been through a tenth of what he had. And he never wanted her to go through it, either. “Handsome faces don’t do much for me anymore, Jonquil. Some of the people who fought with me and tried to murder me were pretty enough to attract attention. And his pushiness doesn’t recommend him.”
Jonquil nodded again, although from the polite expression on her face, she was still baffled. “Thanks, Harry.”
“I only did as much as I can,” Harry said, waved off her thanks, and watched as she departed the room. Then he turned back to the book. He was thinking of becoming a human Healer in a few years, and for that, he needed to know more about anatomy than he currently did.
Which is nothing outside of what some people’s bones look like when they take a Blasting Curse to the chest.
“Harry. I’d like to speak to you.”
Harry blinked, feeling as baffled as Jonquil had looked. He couldn’t remember a time when Dorea had come up to his room. “Of course,” he said slowly, and pushed the book under a fold of the covers. “Is Jonquil all right?” That would be the only thing he could imagine bringing Dorea here.
“Perfectly fine.” Dorea smoothed her robes out and took the chair Jonquil had. “I wanted to speak to you about young Mr. Gaunt.”
“What about him?” Harry matched his great-aunt’s voice, quiet and polite.
“What is he to you?”
Harry sighed and looked away. He hadn’t told any of his relatives about his experiences in his first world, and honestly, he wanted it to stay that way. Why should he burden them with things even he wanted to forget? He went back through the gate to his first world only to visit Ron and Hermione, sometimes the rest of the Weasleys, and even more rarely, his parents’ graves. The longing for family had died down somewhat since he’d met the rest of the Potters in this dimension.
But he also trusted Dorea not to spread the information widely, and not to react with sheer horror and nothing else.
“Another incarnation of the man I spent the first eighteen years of my life fighting a war against,” he said, turning back to face her.
Dorea only nodded as if she had expected something like that, though Harry saw the way her nostrils flared. “But he is not that man?”
“No. He’s a lot younger than the version I fought was. But he looks like his younger self, who I saw in memories, and he has—the same ambitions. He wants to turn me into a weapon.” Harry winced a little as he said it, because after seeing Tom’s life he no longer believed that, but it was the simplest way to explain to Dorea. “I think he would turn any Potter who went with him to his world into a weapon, but he wants me because I have so much power.”
“More power than you have ever shown us.”
“Harry.” Astonishingly, because she hadn’t done this sort of thing as long as he’d known her, Dorea stood up and walked across the room to him, catching his hands before he could draw them away. “Did you think we would reject you?”
“No.” Harry rubbed at his eyes. He seemed to be handling everything wrong today, from speaking to Jonquil to the way he talked to Dorea. “But I wanted to be normal. Ordinary, you know? Everyone who knew me in my first world except my two best friends and some of their family talked about me like I was some kind of object. A weapon or an idol or a cataclysm. I just want to be normal.”
“That, I think, you will never be.” Dorea rubbed circles on his back. “I have watched you since you moved here. Of course I am thrilled that you have rediscovered your family, and that I get to know you in a way that the version of me in your world never did.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “I can sense the ‘but’ coming.”
“I don’t think that you would be content like this for long,” Dorea said quietly. “It’s only been six months, I know. You needed the rest. But for the remainder of your life? Harry, would you? You wouldn’t want to use that power thrumming in you? To marry someone else and have children?”
“There are people in Godric’s Hollow I can marry!”
Harry grimaced after thinking it through for a moment. Well, all right, it was true, most of the wizards here were either married already, extremely young, or related to the Potters closely enough that he wouldn’t want to court them, even though he knew most other pure-bloods would think the relationship distant. “Fine. I could go elsewhere and find someone else to marry. But then I could come back here.”
Dorea’s hands stroked down the back of his spine and through his hair. Harry leaned against her. “Darling, you were meant for greater things. I know that I’m not your grandmother, that you don’t have Black blood directly in the last few generations, but you remind me so much of my own family. They wouldn’t have been content to bury themselves in a village for the rest of their lives.”
“Why not? You have!”
“I came to Godric’s Hollow to live permanently after a long and full life,” Dorea said sharply. She made Harry sit back so he would meet her eyes. “I was a Potions brewer who made frequent trips outside the country for ingredients. Then I learned Gobbledegook and served as a liaison between the goblins and wizards in London. Then I lived in Egypt for five years.”
“Well, you have undoubtedly seen worse. Studying necromancy.”
Harry flinched a little, his memory full of a graveyard and a cauldron, but he shook his head and made himself dismiss it. It was only so close to the surface because he’d let Tom look at it with the Angelfire Charm anyway. “Yes, I have.”
Dorea gave a sharp little smile. “I understand that Muggle mothers have a hard time having both a career and children, that they are pressured to stay at home with them. No one ever dared pressure me. I Apparated home to spend time with Arthur every week, every few days, and I raised my child. I am happy now to know my grandchildren. But this is the time of my life when I am happy because it was not always so, Harry. Can you say that you will not grow restless?”
Dorea simply looked at him.
“I can say that,” Harry told her, looking at her unflinchingly, “because I also lived a full life. I fought a war. For years. I died and came back to life, Great-Aunt Dorea. Then I dealt with the consequences of that, of people wanting me to be their symbol and their weapon. There’s nothing else I want. I am going to live in peace and heal and help people and do nothing else.”
Dorea stared at him. “You mean that. The dying and coming back to life—they were literal.”
Harry hesitated once more. Then he said, “Please don’t tell this to anyone else unless I approve it. I really don’t think some of them could bear to know. But I was a human Horcrux. The piece of soul that was inside me was killed by its maker. The man I fought and told you about. The man who’s a version of Tom Gaunt.”
Dorea stood silent and still for a long time. Harry had no doubt that she knew what a Horcrux was, if only because of her Black heritage.
Then she said softly, “Oh, great-nephew. I didn’t know. And I can see now where you’re coming from, why you only want to stay here and be left in peace.” She embraced him as if she thought he was made of rose-petals.
Harry hugged her back, and closed his eyes. “Thanks. Anyway. Like I said, please don’t tell them. I think Jonquil might need to know, to reassure her that I have absolutely no desire to go with Tom, but I want to be the one to tell her if she does.”
Dorea smoothed his hair down, as much as it could be smoothed. “Of course I won’t. I may want to be present for the conversation, though.” She smiled at him and left.
Only when she had been gone perhaps an hour did Harry look up from his anatomy book again, remembering that she hadn’t agreed with him that he should be left in Godric’s Hollow in peace.
Tom smiled at Jonquil as he watched her pick her way across the garden to him. Tom was sitting in Euphemia and Fleamont Potter’s garden, between some of the tall stands of wildflowers. He was sketching them; he had never seen flowers like them before, long purple-streaked white trumpets with golden bell-shaped petals clinging to them below, and thought they might not exist in his dimension.
“What is it, Jonquil?”
For long moments, she stood there, her fingers tracing the lines of embroidery in her robe, while bees dodged around her. Tom added a few lines to his sketch, leaning forwards to make sure that he had got the exact angle of the purple lines inside the nearest flower.
“I want to come back with you to your world. Would you take me as—as a friend? Not a lover? Just someone who wants to accompany you?”
That’s new. Tom added the finishing touch to the sketch and set the parchment aside, regarding her. Jonquil flushed under his scrutiny, but didn’t turn away or mumble anything. She stood there, still and silent, staring. Tom had to admit he hadn’t known she had that much strength.
If Harry hadn’t existed, if he had been less intrigued with him, then Tom might have said he had indeed found his Potter, and the deficiencies she had could be corrected by education back in his world.
As it was, he had to shake his head. “I’m sorry, Jonquil,” he said, and he meant it more sincerely than he would have two days ago. “But there’s only one person I want to come with me. Otherwise, I’ll go back to my dimension alone.”
“Harry.” This time she did mumble, and turned to stare blindly into the flowers as if they might give her magical strength like her cousin’s.
“But why? Is it just his power? Because he’s told me he has no intention of going back with you. And I don’t believe he’d lie to you about that.”
“His power was the main reason I would have chosen him, but he doesn’t like it to be the reason for his choosing,” Tom said, then paused when Jonquil cast him a look of blank incomprehension. So Harry still hadn’t told her everything. Tom would have to go more slowly to make sure he was respecting Harry’s privacy. “I mean that he doesn’t want me to think of him as a weapon or an object. Wanting him for his power would come close to that.”
“I wouldn’t like that, either. But you’re capable of being friends with someone, Tom. I know that.”
What you know is the façade I project. And I wouldn’t have been capable of even sitting here and listening to this much of your faff and nonsense if it wasn’t for what Harry has taught me.
Tom, of course, only smiled softly and said, “I know. But I could make friends in my world if that was my main objective, Jonquil. I’m still looking for someone to help me fight a war.”
“I can’t do that yet. But what if I could?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if I spend time training and becoming better at fighting, and—and then you take me back with you to your world? I know the flow of time isn’t the same in our worlds, you said so yourself. What if only a few days pass in your world and years here?”
Tom had, in fact, made sure that he had the gate opened to a world where time passed more slowly, so he would not return home and find his resistance effort crushed beyond hope of redemption. But he no intention of using the years to wait for Jonquil. “I’m afraid it still wouldn’t be enough.”
Jonquil flushed as brilliant as Fiendfyre. “Do you—I mean, do you only like men?”
“As friends?” Tom began, and then saw where she was aiming. He laughed, a low sound that flushed Jonquil’s neck and chest, he was happy to see. “No. But I am extremely choosy about anyone I allow close to me.”
“I could still be it, Tom. I aspire to be it.”
“I know. But I won’t choose you, Jonquil. You ought to follow your cousin’s advice and become good at dueling or warding or whatever you want to do for your own sake. I’m going to persuade Harry to return with me or no one.”
“What if I told him that? That you’re still obsessing over him?”
Tom shrugged. “He does know. That doesn’t make him any more eager to be seduced, but he knows that I want him.”
Jonquil gave him a frustrated frown. “So you’re staying here because you hope to seduce him some other way?”
She was quicker than she had seemed yesterday. “Yes.”
“Then I could do the same thing.” Before Tom could bristle too much and assume that she meant seducing Harry, Jonquil added, “Convince you to take me with you without resorting to traditional methods.”
“Maybe you could,” Tom said, because it seemed as though many things were possible after what he had seen in Harry’s soul and not because he assumed she would succeed.
Jonquil’s chin went up, and she acquired the stubborn look that Tom had seen on her before. She nodded at him and stomped off.
Tom remained where he was for a few minutes, thinking. Then he finished sketching the flowers and stood up, tucking the scroll away. He could not carry out his plan to seduce Harry sitting in the garden.
He caught Harry walking out the door towards the stables that he seemed to spend so much time beside. Harry gave him a cautious glance. Tom resisted the impulse to touch him. That worked with some people, but not with Harry, not given their history.
Someday, I would like to touch him whenever I want, and know that I will be welcome.
“Something you wanted, Gaunt?”
Tom nodded. “For you to show me your work and how you heal animals.”
The utter bafflement in Harry’s eyes was its own treat. But he agreed after looking Tom over for signs of what Tom supposed were evil plans, and he glanced over his shoulder several times as they walked, apparently awaiting the beginning of the joke.
Tom gave him a sweet smile. It was no joke. He could only understand Harry and spend time with him by learning about those things that Harry wanted to learn about, the things that interested Harry.
I want him to like me. This is one way to do it.
Chapter 11: Learning Harry
“Where did you learn those spells?”
“From books about healing animals before I came here.”
Tom leaned on the fence and watched as Harry moved through the same repertoire of spells over and over again, first on the mare called Princess, then on her foal, then on a few other horses that stood grazing here and there. They didn’t seem to harm the horses, although they did sometimes twitch their ears and walk a few steps in response.
Of course they don’t harm the horses. Can you see Harry using spells that hurt innocents like that?
Tom had to admit he couldn’t. And that thought made something low in his belly tighten with excitement, instead of the contempt it would have a fortnight ago.
“What do the spells test for?” Tom murmured. A brown gelding ambled towards him, nostrils flared, and Tom held out his hand flat. The gelding sniffed for a second more, then evidently decided Tom had nothing interesting to offer and turned away to flick his tail at a fly.
“Some diseases. The solidity of bone. How well they’re digesting the food in their stomachs. The soundness of their hooves. The state of their coats. I found one horse that way that wasn’t being groomed well enough by her owner.” Harry sighed a little. “It turned out she was trusting her teenage son to do it and he just hadn’t been. He cast illusions to make it look like the horse was being taken care of instead.”
Tom snorted. It would never have occurred to him to lie about something like that, much less to use illusions to reinforce it. “You need to check all the horses for the same things? Even the foal?”
“No, I use slightly different spells on him. But there are still some conditions I’d need to know about right away if they were affecting him.”
“Why did you decide that you wanted to heal animals?”
“I took enough away from the world during the war,” Harry said, shaking his head a little. “And had enough taken away. Even after the war, it seemed all I could do was destroy. This is a way to give something back to the world. And keep helpless animals safe.”
Tom turned to watch him. He’d finished casting the spells on the gelding, and was scratching the back of his neck with what looked like a Transfigured brush. The gelding was stretching and rubbing back and forth, lips wrinkled, seemingly caught up in the moment. “You didn’t destroy. You saved your world, from what I can tell.”
Harry wrinkled his nose. “Yes, but then I couldn’t build up a normal life or even bind the Death Eaters who attacked me and deliver them to prison. I ended up killing them instead.” He took the brush away, and the gelding turned his head and gave Harry a look that even Tom could read as reproachful. Harry paid no attention, instead staring at his hands. “I did try. My magic was too powerful. And my intent too murderous.”
He said the last words softly, but Tom heard them. “You had the right to be as murderous as you wanted, after what they tried to do to you. I’m only surprised that as many people survived as did.”
Harry shuddered a little and sent the brush flying back to the barn with a flick of his hand. “Well. It doesn’t matter. That part is behind me now.”
“Is it, if it bothers you so much?”
“Yes. Dorea asked me much the same thing, if I could be content to stay here after spending so much of my life fighting. I told her the same thing I’ll tell you now: I’m glad to be done with it. I deserve some peace and quiet, and I don’t want war or excitement, the way you and Jonquil do.”
“Not subtle, Harry,” Tom said with a faint smile. He felt as if he could stand here for hours and watch Harry, even though he was doing nothing more now than scratching the gelding with crooked fingers. “And I think there is something my world that would appeal to you.”
“Besides your company?”
Even the way he curled his lip and looked at Tom sidelong was appealing. Tom tried not to get distracted by it. “Yes. I know that Dumbledore was the Headmaster of Hogwarts in your world. Do you know if he was ever offered any higher political power?”
“He was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. He had plenty of political power.”
“Chief Warlock still isn’t as important as the Minister. That’s what he is in my world, and he’s changing things to reflect his vision.”
“Good for him, then.”
Tom sighed. “When he has secret police that listen to conversations on the sly and sometimes make people disappear? When he’s banned all sorts of magic that he thinks might break the Statute of Secrecy, whether or not it actually has? When he wants people to swear loyalty oaths to him, not to the Ministry or their Departments, the way it was always done?”
Harry hesitated a second. Then he said, “I don’t like the idea of secret police. But we had a bunch of incompetent Ministers in my world. What happens when someone in yours does break the Statute of Secrecy?”
“For now, the Obliviators handle it. Dumbledore has spoken out about how inhumane he finds the use of the Memory Charm on Muggles. He wants to end it.”
“It is inhumane,” Harry muttered, but he was flushing in a way that made Tom wonder, idly, if there were specific Muggles he’d like to see it used on, or didn’t mind it being used on. Those Dursleys he had lived with, perhaps.
“And trying to come up with an alternative would be fine, if he wasn’t tipping the scale all the way to the other side and deciding that means that he doesn’t need permission to cast Memory Charms on wizards. He wants to Obliviate them of the knowledge of how to perform certain magic, under the excuse that it could be dangerous to Muggles.”
Harry’s eyes widened for a moment. Then he asked, “And is that legal?”
“Not completely, not yet.” Tom hid his smile, because if he revealed it too early, then Harry would realize he had become drawn into the discussion about the politics of Tom’s world after all. “He can’t get the Wizengamot to agree to it in all cases. That’s why the Obliviators still function. But he’s got a few high-profile cases moving through the Wizengamot that might change things.”
“What kind of magic did the wizards use?”
“The Unforgivable Curses, most of them.”
Harry frowned and shook his head. “But then, they’re already illegal, right? If they’re called Unforgivables in your world, too. So he shouldn’t need to say that the wizards need some kind of special punishment.”
“Ah,” Tom said softly, “but you don’t understand the way he thinks, Harry. He says that the wizards who cast the Unforgivables in front of and on Muggles can be redeemed. But only if they lose the knowledge of the Unforgivables and most other magic and become essentially blank slates, to be taught better by the Aurors.”
Harry stared at him. Tom picked at a splinter of wood on the pasture fence and glanced at the gelding, who was nuzzling at Harry’s arm. Harry finally woke up again and petted the horse’s neck, frowning deeply.
“That’s a strange variety of redemption,” Harry finally said.
Tom shrugged. “Not if you think, as Dumbledore does, that what the world really requires is the inability to do wrong. Not if you want complete control of your enemies’ minds, and the wizarding world’s minds, as he does.”
“My Dumbledore was very different from yours,” Harry muttered, staring into the field and watching the foal as he kicked up his heels and scrambled around his mother. “I mean, you’re very different from my version of Voldemort, too. But something must have happened in my first world, or happened in yours, that changed his course.”
Tom shrugged a little. From what he could see in Harry’s memories, his Dumbledore had been exactly the same, only focused on controlling the minds of students instead of the whole wizarding world and on Harry specifically. Tom saw no reason to bring that up, though, when it would only distract Harry.
“My resistance movement isn’t very strong yet,” Tom murmured instead. “I can barely muster people who want to fight with me. There are more who will donate money, but even they’re terrified of Dumbledore noticing them.”
“Do they think he’s going to kill them?”
“They think he’s going to take their minds away from them, Harry,” Tom said, and dared to move a little nearer, since Harry was giving him this chance. “They could wake up Obliviated of important memories, maybe even that they opposed Dumbledore in the first place. And more, the people who have private conversations with him come back changed. Not always missing their memories, but convinced he’s right.”
Harry tapped his fingers on the fence. “Do you think he’s using the Imperius Curse?”
“That would leave more traces of itself behind. And while I don’t think Dumbledore’s beyond the hypocrisy of using the Imperius Curse even as he tries to Obliviate the knowledge of it from other people’s minds, it would be too crude in this case. The Imperius Curse really affects behavior in a noticeable way. These people just act like they’ve been enlightened.”
“You lost someone, didn’t you?”
Tom frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You lost someone to Dumbledore’s manipulations,” Harry said, gently. His eyes were wider and brighter than Tom had seen them yet, focused on him. “You had someone you thought was a friend, and then they went into Dumbledore’s office and came out on the opposite side.”
Tom took a step back. Harry shook his head. “I’m not using Legilimency or the Angelfire Charm or anything else, Tom. It’s just a logical conclusion.”
“The kind of ‘logical conclusion’ that no one else has been able to come up with.”
For some reason, that made Harry nod a little. “You see another reason that you might not want me to come back to your world with you? I’m a little unnerving, right?”
Tom relaxed and chuckled. “And manipulative. You keep trying to come up with ways to make me not want you, Harry. It won’t work.”
Harry’s face snapped into a neutral expression. “Anyway. Who did you lose to Dumbledore? Who went in there and came out convinced that he was right and he’d always been right?”
“One of my followers’ brothers, Justin Mulciber,” Tom said softly. He could still see Apollo’s devastated eyes when he first told Tom what had happened and begged for his help. And Tom had tried, but looking into Justin’s mind had simply revealed seamless layers of thoughts and fervency, all of them focused on Dumbledore. Tom couldn’t undo the manipulations he couldn’t find. “It was more how important he was to my friend that made him important to me.”
“And because you couldn’t protect him. That was a large part of it, wasn’t it? Because you were setting yourself up as this powerful figure for the people who knew you, and then you couldn’t save someone they wanted you to save.”
Tom stepped closer instead of away this time, letting his warmth at being seen like this overrule his fear at it. “You should be training to be a Mind-Healer instead of an animal Healer,” he whispered. “You would be spectacular at it.” To see what would happen, as much as anything else, he let his hand glance off Harry’s where it lay on the fence.
This time, the connection was different. Tom didn’t feel the burning pleasure he had before; he felt as if he had been struck by an enormous clarity of mind and body. For a minute, he had a glimpse of bright plans he would make with Harry, the heights they could soar to, and then the lightning passed and left him again in darkness.
Harry stepped back from him, gasping.
“The touch really does vary,” Tom said in wonder. “Based on what we’re thinking about, what we want, at the time.”
Harry pinned him with a gaze as sharp as that lightning bolt. “What you want. I have no desire to sleep with you or go back to your world, Tom.”
“You might,” Tom said. “I’m only trying to persuade you, Harry, not force you.” He privately thought there was another reason for the touch to have altered, but it would be the height of stupidity to speak that thought aloud right now.
Harry gave him a long, careful glance, and then turned away. He went back to casting diagnostic spells at the horses, and moved on to the cows and sheep, and Tom trailed him and sometimes asked polite, discreet questions.
Harry rolled his shoulders in obvious irritation, but he still answered them. Tom wasn’t entirely sure if that was because Harry was too polite and forgiving for his own good—something he had seen in those memories of Harry’s life—or because he was responding, slowly, to Tom’s interest in what he was doing.
And Tom did find it interesting. Not for the animals or the spells, but for the way Harry gestured and moved and spoke and cast most of those spells wordlessly, and sometimes windlessly. For the way he moved through the landscape without fitting into it. For the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled at a colt or a calf.
Tom wanted that smile to turn in his direction. But at least now he knew he would have to be patient.
Harry knew perfectly well what Tom was doing. He had launched a campaign to convert Harry to his side, the same as before, just using different tactics. Telling Harry about the awful government in his world was a way to convince Harry to help, to give him another world of people to save.
He doesn’t understand that that’s the opposite of a temptation for me. I don’t want to save people anymore. Healing animals of physical diseases is so different.
And Harry had a plan of his own.
He finally managed to shake Tom when he went back to Dorea’s house for lunch. Tom had apparently promised to eat lunch with Euphemia and Fleamont, so Harry smiled him on his way, and ignored the sensation of eyes on his back as he walked into Dorea’s kitchen.
And found Jonquil sitting at the kitchen table, just the way he’d planned. She had a habit of eating by herself and reading dueling books on Wednesday, which this was.
Jonquil looked up at him and then rose to her feet. Harry raised his eyebrows at her, and Jonquil frowned at him in response. “You look as though you’re going to send an offensive spell right at me as I sit here.”
“Well, no,” Harry said, and sat down across from her at the table, absently Summoning what he would need to make a bowl of soup to his specifications. “But Tom told me something about his home world that might change your opinion of going back with him.”
Jonquil sat back down, her back straight, her hands folded in front of her and her eyes filling with flame. “Does he already have someone in his world that he’s—close to?”
Harry wanted to snort, but he carefully didn’t. Jonquil was six years younger than he was, and Tom five. Maybe that was why they were all focused on something that wasn’t very important at all to him. Or maybe he’d just been soured by all the fans back in his first world who were convinced after spending a few minutes listening to him speak that they were in love with him and they and Harry could spend the rest of their lives together.
Tom isn’t really that different. He spent more time in my mind, but he doesn’t know me. He doesn’t want me.
That last thought sounded pathetic even to him, so Harry concentrated on what he could say. “No, just that the war in his world is different than I thought. He does want to fight, but a lot of it won’t be openly.”
He told Jonquil what Tom had said about Dumbledore and the way he could manipulate minds and was trying to outlaw even the knowledge of some branches of magic. Jonquil was pale by the time he’d finished, one hand raised to cradle her temple.
“That’s not the kind of warrior I am,” she whispered. “I don’t know anything about the mind arts. And you can’t teach me, can you?”
Harry shook his head. “I’m not good at anything but a kind of brute-force Legilimency. And it would take months to learn even if I was.” He paused, then added, “But Tom is. He’s very good at both shielding his mind and reading others’.”
Jonquil sat up. “So if I said that I was interested in learning…?”
“He might or might not teach you. But it would be a better preparation for his world than being trained in dueling, I think.”
Why in the world does he want me for my power, then?
Harry dismissed the notion. It was probably another product of Tom not really understanding who he was.
“And there are books that Grandmama Dorea mentioned at one point,” Jonquil muttered. “Books on the mind arts, I mean. She wouldn’t have given them to me when I was younger, but if I ask for them now and show I’m making an effort, then Tom would know that I’m aware of the danger and still want to stand at his side.”
“And you know,” Harry said delicately, “that you could learn them for yourself? That you don’t have to have Tom as an inspiration to learn them?”
Jonquil blinked at him. “I mean, I know I could. But it would be a lot of work to learn them without some kind of goal, wouldn’t it?”
Harry bit his lip to avoid saying what he thought, which was mainly You’re too young to have to decide every bit of the rest of your life right the fuck now. He knew that Jonquil, who wanted a direction, a way to walk, wouldn’t thank him for his condescension. She wanted to decide now, and she should be able to do that.
So they spent the rest of the lunch discussing what Occlumency and Legilimency were like, and what she might learn, and Harry hoped he could do both of the things he wanted.
Give Jonquil a direction and a way to occupy herself and learn some magic that might interest her even more than dueling.
And give Tom a thorough distraction, who might become a real friend or lover in the process. Jonquil adored Tom. Who could resist that kind of adoration forever?
Chapter 12: A Two-Sided Portal
Tom woke with so much pain radiating along his side that for a scrambling, heart-freezing moment, he thought someone had cursed him. He had used the Muscle-Cramping Curse on older Slytherins who had bullied him often enough, once they began to have to acknowledge that he wasn’t a Muggleborn.
But the pain faded, and Tom frowned. For a moment, he closed his eyes, wondering if he could go back to sleep. It had to be around four in the morning.
But behind his eyes, a vision promptly unfolded. It showed the hillside some miles from Godric’s Hollow where he had located the portal to his world. The portal had resembled a faint red circle hanging in the air the last time Tom saw it. Now it was twisting and blinking like an eye, flares of red light shooting out of it.
Tom opened his eyes and shot to his feet, Summoning his wand with a twist of his hand. Now he understood the pain. The portal was connected to his magic, so the pain had acted as a warning of its behavior.
And he couldn’t stand the thought that he would be trapped here just when he had begun to make some real progress with Harry.
He skidded down the stairs, using Silencing Charms to make as little noise as possible. He didn’t know how he would explain the situation to the Potters, which meant long conversations, which meant that he might not reach the portal before it closed.
If that is what is happening. Tom allowed his mind to tick over the idea as he made it out of the house and past the point where Anti-Apparition wards lurked. The portal wasn’t supposed to be able to close until he went back through it with his chosen Potter.
But things could always go wrong, especially with oracles and blood sacrifices that weren’t widely used or understood. Tom spun on his heel the second he could, and Apparated to the hillside.
Closer to the portal, he felt the pressure hanging about it like the air that got pushed in front of a thunderstorm. Tom shielded his eyes from one of the flares of random light and stared at the bloody thing. “What’s wrong with you?” he shouted, of course not expecting an answer.
“Nothing that a good cup of tea wouldn’t cure.”
Tom stumbled back before he could help himself, and looked wide-eyed at the portal. His first thought was that the oracle might have neglected to tell him that the thing was sentient, along with so much else it had kept hidden, his second that asking for a cup of tea was a rather weird request even if the portal was sentient—
And then Dumbledore stepped through the portal and dusted off his robes. Behind him, the portal flared one more time and settled down, fading to the dimness it had assumed after Tom was through it.
You weren’t supposed to be able to do that, Tom thought. You weren’t supposed to be able to come here. He licked his lips and said the only thing he could think of that wouldn’t betray some of his secrets. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without a guard of Aurors and Ministry workers, Minister.”
Dumbledore looked over his shoulder and shook his head, although Tom could tell nothing from his neutral expression. “They did not follow me? A shame. I would have liked them to be able to see a new world.” He faced Tom again and smiled, the perfect, shallow smile that he used when reporters tried to demand answers of him he didn’t want to give. “Hello again, Mr. Riddle. What an unexpectedly powerful and talented young man you’ve turned out to be.”
Tom bottled his panic. Dumbledore couldn’t actually have him arrested here. The Potters hadn’t mentioned who their Minister was, but Tom was also sure there would have been a comment from Harry if Dumbledore’s counterpart here was Minister. Tom nodded, instead. “What brings you to this world, Minister?”
“Merely wanting to see what would inspire someone to open a portal with sacrificial blood magic that the Ministry has forbidden for a reason, Mr. Riddle.”
“I doubt you would have tried to bring so many of your entourage through if you were going to reward me, Minister.”
Dumbledore sighed and pulled his glasses off his face to clean them on his dark blue robes. Tom had read in their History of Magic textbook that Dumbledore used to wear eye-watering robes before he became Minister, combinations of colors that made some observers sick to their stomachs, but he always wore somber ones now. And ones lined with silver, Tom noted when Dumbledore shifted and the cuffs and hem of his robes flashed. “Let us not play around, Mr. Riddle, shall we? You knew that you were using illegal magic when you sought out the oracle. You can hardly be surprised that someone followed you.”
Someone betrayed me. Tom didn’t let his smile waver. “And I don’t see how that concerns you, Minister, when the oracles themselves have not been outlawed and the blood used was of an animal sacrifice.”
Dumbledore paused before putting his glasses on. Tom had the impression that he’d truly surprised him. “Animal?” he murmured. “That cannot be, my boy. The oracles only open such portals for human blood.”
Tom managed a smile of true amusement this time, thinking of the price Harry had paid to open his portal. “You don’t know very much about them, sir.”
“Perhaps not, perhaps not. But I am always willing to be educated by members of the public.”
Tom shook his head. Now that he thought about it, Dumbledore’s intrusion was less disastrous than he had assumed, at least for his chances in this world. Dumbledore had the power to have him arrested when he went back home, but here, he was as much a political player as Tom was, no more, and Tom couldn’t see the independent Potters listening to every lie he spoke. “Are you coming with me, sir?”
“I must make sure that you haven’t corrupted others with knowledge of blood magic, Tom.”
Are we going to use first names, then? Very well. “Watch out, Albus. They even know the Unforgivable Curses.”
Dumbledore gave him a sad glance. “If you only knew how much havoc those spells had caused in the past…”
“How can we know that, sir, when you would Obliviate knowledge of our own history from our minds?”
“It is my hope that we can all return to a state of primal innocence, my boy.”
“Then you’d volunteer to undergo a Memory Charm and have your knowledge of the Unforgivables and other spells taken away?”
“There must be some shepherds for the sheep, of course.”
Tom had no idea how much longer their conversation might have continued, had a light not flared in front of them and Harry’s voice said dryly, “Maybe you find it fascinating to have philosophical discussions by moonlight, but I don’t. Tom, are you all right?”
Tom blinked away the afterimages and studied Harry. He was acting in an interesting way. The Lumos Charm on his wand was deliberately overpowered, etching sharp shadows through the night. He was angled towards Tom, and strode over to stand at his side when he finished speaking. From there, he aimed a bright, insincere smile at Dumbledore. Tom reached out to put a hand on his back, and Harry leaned a little to put more emphasis into the touch before pulling away.
“I’m fine,” Tom said. “I felt someone come through the portal and so I left the house and Apparated here.” The noise he made when doing that must have been what Harry heard.
“Mmmm.” Harry studied Dumbledore for a second, and then said, “Sorry, I don’t know why you’re here.”
Dumbledore seemed to pick up on Harry not saying that he didn’t know who Dumbledore was. That got Harry a soft smile and an extended hand. “Minister Albus Dumbledore. Minister of Magic in Tom’s world.”
“Pleasure,” Harry said with utter neutrality as he shook Dumbledore’s hand and turned towards Tom. “I suppose he’s coming with us?”
Tom wanted to lick his lips, but he also didn’t want to give away any sign of his attraction to Harry, body and mind, in front of Dumbledore. “Yes, I think he needs to.” He shot Dumbledore a glance under lowered eyelashes and encountered yet another bland smile.
“I am here to meet the people you’re trying to lure to your side, Tom.”
And not being subtle about it. Tom gave a half-shrug as he faced Harry again. “Then let’s go.”
Harry had thought that if he saw a version of someone alive here who had died in his world, it would come as a heart-strangling shock. It was one reason he had never gone searching for anyone outside Godric’s Hollow, and had been grateful to learn that this dimension was mostly full of family members who had never been born in his dimension or who he’d never had a chance to meet. Seeing a James Potter who hadn’t married a Lily Evans would have been hard for him.
But for some reason, he was able to walk placidly beside Dumbledore as he and Tom escorted him back to the village, and even make small talk. It was a bit unnerving.
Especially when Dumbledore kept leaning around Tom to meet Harry’s eyes and give him all manner of smiles, from benign to happy to conspiratorial.
Harry didn’t smile back, only returned the glances and then strode on through the night. He supposed they could have Apparated, but he wanted to take this time to assess Dumbledore, and he also didn’t want to introduce Dumbledore so suddenly into his family’s home.
The man was—
Not the same as his Dumbledore. Of course. Obviously. He didn’t play up the grandfatherly act as much from what Harry could see, and his words definitely weren’t as cryptic, since he talked about the political realities of his home dimension. But he might want to play with people’s lives as much.
The bitterness of the thought startled Harry. He blinked. He had forgiven his version of Dumbledore before he left his first world.
Although maybe there it was easy because that man was dead.
“You look startled, young man. Did something occur to you? And might I know your name?”
Harry turned one of his fake smiles towards Dumbledore. He shouldn’t be putting this much trust in Tom’s word, he supposed. He knew now that Tom was different from Voldemort, and the things he had described Dumbledore doing in their world sounded horrific. But maybe Dumbledore was as harmless as he seemed.
“Harry Potter,” he said, and waited. He didn’t know if a version of him existed in Tom’s world or not, although he didn’t think so. Tom wouldn’t have been so stunned to meet him if he did.
“And you know my name,” Dumbledore said, with a warm smile that made it clear how he’d been elected Minister. “Now. Would you tell me what you looked startled about?”
“I was thinking something about my own former world. Thinking how strange it is to see a face, and have it look familiar, and yet it’s not familiar at all.”
Tom tensed next to him, maybe because he thought Harry was giving away too much to Dumbledore. Harry reached over before he could think better of it and gave Tom’s hand a quick squeeze. Then he went on before Dumbledore could speak. “But it shouldn’t be surprising. Worlds are different because the events in them are different. And that forges people into other versions of themselves.”
“You knew me in your world?”
“And that forms part of your reception of me now?” Dumbledore’s voice was a little quicker now, a little more rhythmic. Harry had no idea why. A bland statement like the one Harry had made shouldn’t provoke him. “I see. Was I the Minister in your world?”
Tom turned to shoot Harry a look. Harry knew he probably thought it wise to keep that information from Dumbledore. But Harry honestly doubted he’d be able to, so he said only, “No, the Headmaster of Hogwarts.”
Dumbledore sighed out softly. “And not someone you trusted or liked? Well, I can only try to prove myself different from him.”
Someone who sent me to my death, even if it was with the best of intentions, Harry thought. His former insight was banging around inside his head now. Yes, it had been easier, far easier, for him to deal with the Albus of his world because he had died before the end of the war. And then Harry had left his own world and had thought he’d never need to deal with his own feelings. If he never saw or spoke with that portrait again, how could they come up?
Here was the living proof that he’d been stupid, marching beside him.
“Did he push you to use Dark magic?” Dumbledore added in a soft voice. He stopped walking and turned to face Harry, clasping his hands behind his back, his face grave. For a moment, the moonlight and Harry’s Lumos Charm lit the silver on Dumbledore’s robe cuffs and hem and made them look as if they were on fire. “That is something I cannot abide. For what an apology is worth coming from someone who only shares that man’s name and face, I am sorry.”
And he’s probably sincere, too, Harry thought. Another reason he was elected Minister, I’m sure.
“He was against me using Dark magic, as a matter of fact.”
“Oh. Then can I ask—why do you look as if a thundercloud has settled on your face when you speak of him?”
Harry wondered what to answer. Tom had stopped walking when Dumbledore did, and now he was so tense he was almost vibrating next to Harry. Harry brushed his hand quickly again. Dumbledore frowned at him.
“He wanted me to march to my death,” Harry said at last. He had no intention of getting into the details of the Horcruxes unless he had to, but he wasn’t as against it as he would have been a few days ago. Dorea and Tom had reacted so much better to that revelation than he’d ever thought anyone would.
Dumbledore’s eyes widened. “That—that is strange. I cannot imagine why I would do that.”
“Well, as you said, you’re not the same man, only a version of the one I knew,” Harry said, and bestowed a kindly smile on Dumbledore that had Tom snickering with soundless laughter behind him. “He had his reasons.” Harry glanced ahead, at the path that would lead them to Dorea’s house, and cast a Tempus. Yes, it was still only three-thirty in the morning, long before he could see waking his great-aunt even for a visitor from another world. Tom was lucky he’d shown up in the middle of the day. “Why don’t you come inside and I’ll make you a cup of tea, Mr. Dumbledore?”
“Mr. Riddle should come as well.”
“Why? Do you two know each other?”
Tom cast him a single heated, appreciative glance. What Dumbledore read from it was anyone’s guess, given his extremely polite expression. “I first came through the portal because he used blood sacrifice to open it. I was going to determine if he was practicing other illegal magic and arrest him if possible.”
“Well, looking at him over tea isn’t going to tell you that. Why don’t we let Tom get back to bed, and you and I can talk?”
Tom’s arm brushed against Harry’s side. Harry almost gave the game away by starting. Honestly, he still wasn’t used to having people reach out like that, as wonderful as the hugs his family here gave him were. “I think I would prefer to stay up, Harry. I always have had trouble getting back to sleep once it’s broken in on.”
Harry sighed. Well, he hadn’t thought Tom would let him spend very long talking to Dumbledore alone, if it happened at all. “Fine. Let’s go.” He illuminated the sides of the path with short snaps of his wand, and led Dumbledore and Tom to the kitchen, lifting small shields of silence around them as well. He could just imagine the expression on Dorea’s face if they did wake her up.
Tom kept close to Harry as they settled at the Potters’ kitchen table and Dumbledore looked around with a benign smile, adding too much milk to his tea, as usual. Tom had been more than pleased with the way that Harry kept gesturing to him, supporting him, helping him. And he wasn’t going to let that fade away because Harry wanted to back off or act cooler now that they weren’t walking.
Show appreciation for his support, he’s more likely to give it.
It was a lesson Tom had learned well with his friends and followers back in his own world, and so he made sure his shoulder was leaning against Harry’s as he sat down in the chair next to his and faced Dumbledore.
Dumbledore stopped giving admiring glances to the pans hanging on the walls and the small bread oven that Dorea had in one corner, and glanced at them again. “Mr. Riddle, you know as well as I that you will be arrested if you used illegal magic. Even if it was only technically illegal, even if it was on this side of the portal.”
Tom snorted. Dumbledore hadn’t done enough research to realize how ridiculous that contention was, it seemed. “The laws that apply to portals say magic performed on this side of the door doesn’t count, Minister. Only magic performed in my world.”
Dumbledore sighed. “You violated the spirit and not the letter of the law, Mr. Riddle.”
“Why are you so sure that he did?” Harry interjected. “And even if he did, isn’t it the letter of the law that’s important, when it comes to judging matters like this in court?”
“Not in this case.” Dumbledore folded his hands on the table, utterly ignoring his cup of tea, which Tom knew was a bad sign. “You would not know it since you have now been on this side of the door for a week, Mr. Riddle, but as of yesterday, the Ministry handed all power over the judgment of Dark magic to me. I am now empowered to order the arrest of anyone who uses it and bring them to a private trial, overseen by myself.” His eyes flashed once through his glasses. “And I intend to bring you back for that trial, Mr. Riddle. Blood sacrifice, even from animals, is still Dark magic.”
All Tom could think, in the silence made by what seemed to be the stopping of his heart, was, Shit.
Chapter 13: Questions
Harry felt Tom stiffen behind him, and reached over his shoulder to take Tom’s hand without removing his eyes from Dumbledore’s face. “I don’t think you have as much power as you believe,” he remarked to Dumbledore.
The man sighed a little. “You have admitted that you have little knowledge of my world or this one, Mr. Potter. Please don’t presume to tell me that I don’t have the legal power my own Ministry has granted me.”
“You don’t have it because you can’t enforce it,” Harry said. “You couldn’t bring any of your guards or servants with you through the portal, could you? And from what I know of those things, even one that’s been kept open is open only to the person who made it or to someone they touch as they’re passing through the portal. Unless certain special conditions are met. Which means that you made the blood sacrifice or whatever other illegal measures Tom had to take to pass through the portal yourself.”
Tom made a choking noise. Harry squeezed his hand, hard. He could appreciate that Tom wanted to speak up, but this was not the right time for that. Harry kept staring at Dumbledore and said nothing. He would handle this.
Dumbledore examined him. Then he asked, “And what sacrifice did you make to pass through your own portal, Mr. Potter?”
“Part of my own magic.” Harry saw no harm in admitting that. It wasn’t like this Dumbledore could force him to take it back, or strip it away from his own portal, either.
Dumbledore’s eyes widened. “That should have left you a Squib.”
“Tell me why.”
“For the same reason that you won’t be arresting Tom and taking him back with you.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
Harry snapped his fingers, and limned them and hands in soft blue flame. He knew Dumbledore would appreciate how much effort it took to do that wandlessly, and so quickly, and making sure that the flames avoided burning not only his own skin but Tom’s, and the wood of the table his arms lay on. He smiled thinly at Dumbledore. “Because I have a truly ridiculous amount of magic.”
Tom leaned hard on Harry’s shoulder, staring down at the dancing, ghostly blue fire in front of him. Each individual flame had a point as sharp as a tooth, and yet Tom had no fear that they’d stab him. He knew all of Harry’s anger was meant for Dumbledore.
And it was a wonderful thing, knowing that.
Tom didn’t want to show weakness in front of his enemy, so he didn’t show the emotions or speak the words that such a gesture from Harry merited. He clasped Harry’s shoulder hard, instead, and watched the flames move to encircle his own palm and fingertips. He felt nothing at all. He shivered more from that than he would have from the usual feeling of heat or electricity.
Harry gave him a quick smile before facing Dumbledore again. He hadn’t released his hold on Tom’s hand.
Tom glanced at the Minister. There was a deep frown on his face and shadows around his eyes that Tom knew from experience boded no good. He couldn’t bring himself to be frightened, though. Harry was doing something incredible. Dumbledore would have to put up with just how incredible it was in his own time.
“You cannot mean to stand in the way of my arresting Mr. Riddle,” Dumbledore said slowly, as if testing the words out. “These are the politics of a foreign world, and have nothing to do with the one you came from or the one where you have embedded yourself. Why care at all, Mr. Potter?”
“Tell me why you call him Riddle,” Harry said instead. “He told me that his name was Gaunt.”
Tom moved his hand that was on Harry’s shoulder to rub the back of his neck. Harry shivered, but Tom was fairly sure that was a motion only he could see. Outwardly, Harry remained calm and focused.
“Because that was the name of his father. A child in our world often carries the father’s name. Is it different in your world, Mr. Potter?”
Tom listened to the way Harry shrugged, the slight clicks of bones. “A child in my world usually carries the father’s name, too. But it doesn’t mean that Tom introduced himself to me under false pretenses. If he goes by Gaunt, why don’t you call him that?”
Tom hid his smile. He knew the answer. Gaunt was a name of power and some notoriety in parts of his world; it didn’t always draw positive attention, but it drew it. Dumbledore would do everything he could to deprive him of that power. And he would have made the gamble that Gaunts might be known in this world as well, but Riddles were not.
“You do not understand the type of politics that Mr. Gaunt and I play, Mr. Potter.”
“I understand enough. For example, I think you came seeking Tom in this world to bully him and have him follow you back into a context where you could strip of him of his power. And I think that you conducted the illegal blood magic ritual or whatever it was that you did to get past the portal with the excuse of the greater good. And I think that you want to convince me to stand against Tom. Which is,” Harry said, leaning so far forwards across the table that Tom almost lost his grip on him, “not ever going to happen.”
God, Tom’s hands were tingling with desire. He reached out to touch the back of Harry’s neck, rubbing at his collarbone. Harry turned to smile up at him, then faced Dumbledore again, face gone cool and remote.
“I’m waiting for an answer,” Harry added when some silence had passed.
“I do not know how to answer such a mischaracterization of my own actions,” Dumbledore said, and pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his face, a gesture Tom had seen him use before when he wanted the masses to sympathize with him.
“You could just tell me the truth. If I’m so completely wrong, then it’ll be easy to you to tell me so.”
Damn. Tom wanted to drag Harry into another room and kiss him until he ran out of breath. No one had ever stood up for him like that.
“Very well,” Dumbledore said, and put his glasses back on. “We had a damaging civil war when I was a young man, Mr. Potter. Pure-blood fanatics wanted to strip all rights from Muggleborns and send us back to a Dark Age when Muggleborns were slaves to pure-bloods.”
“That sounds horrible. It doesn’t explain why you’re calling Tom by the wrong name or why you did blood magic to get through the portal.”
“I am getting to that, Mr. Potter. I came to see that violent change, which these fanatics advocated, was not the right way to alter the world. Nor would it have helped to send everyone who was on the wrong side of the war to prison or eliminate their money and power base, as some people I agreed with politically wanted to do. Slow, slow change was the only way to get things done.”
“Having the Ministry unilaterally hand you power to do anything doesn’t sound like slow change. Nor does making people forget about the Unforgivable Curses.”
“I have been Minister for more than twenty years, Mr. Potter,” said Dumbledore, with a slight smile. Tom would have been worried about other people falling for it, but not Harry. “This is the end result of many slow changes that I made in the past.”
“And you’re afraid that Tom is going to make some violent ones that you won’t like?”
“He does have young pure-bloods who follow in his train. He may not be of completely Gaunt heritage, but he uses their name like a whip. I do not know what he has told you about his politics, Mr. Potter, but I fear it is far from the truth. I am trying to preserve our world.”
“Then you’re going about it the wrong way.”
Tom closed his eyes in a faint blink. The absolute blankness of Harry’s voice was actually making him hard.
“I do not think so, Mr. Potter. And in any case, as someone who is unaffected by these quarrels, why should you take a side? Kindly allow me to remove Mr. Gaunt back to our world. Then you need not think about it anymore.”
“I’m not going to let you punish someone for something you did yourself.”
Dumbledore closed his eyes and shook his head. “I think you are probably a good person, Mr. Potter, but standing stubbornly in my way is not a good idea. Please. I am giving you one more chance to back off.”
Dumbledore drew his elder-wood wand from his pocket. Tom tensed, but Harry merely reached across the table and touched Dumbledore on the arm. There was a sharp crack, and abruptly the blue flames turned to ice and streamed down Harry’s fingers. Dumbledore’s arm froze to the table.
For a moment, the room as a whole seemed to freeze, not just Dumbledore. Tom could see how wide Dumbledore’s eyes were, and how he couldn’t seem to take them off Harry. Then again, Tom had never heard of someone defying him so openly before.
Then everyone moved.
Tom drew his wand and tried to jump up beside Harry. Dumbledore touched his wand to the ice and melted it with a single muttered word. Then he aimed his wand at Harry.
And Harry let go.
The room filled in an instant with magic, invisible except for some small sparks of gold and silver in the air around Harry, but so thick that Tom found it hard to breathe. Harry let more and more power flow out of him, and Tom felt his movements become sluggish. Dumbledore seemed to notice it in the same instant. He drew his wand back, but slowly, and watched Harry with an unreadable expression.
“You don’t have the power here that you have in your own world,” Harry repeated softly. He was standing now, with his arms folded and his eyes so calm and direct that Tom would have had trouble meeting them. He didn’t know how Dumbledore stood up under that gaze. “You’re intruding here. If Tom came back to your world and opposed you, maybe you would have some way to arrest him. But here, he’s a guest. And you’re a hypocrite. Leave.”
The word cracked all around the room. For an instant, Tom saw the walls sway, and he thought the house might fall down. But he found himself utterly unafraid. He knew Harry would find a way to save Tom and the rest of his family if that happened.
Dumbledore vanished. Tom stared at the point where he had been and turned slowly to look at Harry. “Did you banish him back beyond the portal?” he whispered. Such a thing was impossible as far as he knew, but at that moment, he would have believed it.
“No.” Harry pulled his power into himself and sighed, not exhausted but weary. “I don’t have power over that portal the way I do over mine. But I banished him beyond Godric’s Hollow. And he can’t return within a few miles of it now without permission.” He turned a faint frown on Tom. “You’ll have to worry about him if you go further away than that, though.”
Tom opened his mouth, and found he couldn’t speak. His body was shaking with fine tremors. Harry moved towards him at once and grasped his shoulders. “Tom? Are you all right? I’m sorry I let him stay this long, if he frightened you. I just thought that maybe he would listen to reason—”
Tom leaned forwards and kissed Harry.
There was nothing else he could do, nothing that would express the fire that raged in him, the desire racing through his blood. And this time, thoughts of seduction were whirled away down the same stream of desire and flame. He had to show Harry what he felt.
Harry caught the back of Tom’s neck, gasping. Of course that opened his mouth, and that meant Tom’s tongue swept in, and Harry found himself staggering with the sheer hunger of the kiss. He knew this was different than the other times that Tom had tried to prove something to him—
But he still couldn’t allow it to go any further. Tom still had to go back to his own world in the end, and Harry didn’t want to come with him. Tom still didn’t know enough about Harry to know what he really wanted, either.
Harry’s hands ended up on Tom’s arms, and he gently pushed him back. “Thanks,” he said, smiling at Tom, so he wouldn’t feel humiliated. “But you don’t have to do that, you know.”
Tom’s face was slack. He didn’t smile. He shook his head and grabbed Harry’s hand, guiding it down between his legs before Harry could stop him. “You have no idea,” Tom said, his voice interrupted by sounds that weren’t loud enough to be gasps. “What you do to me. Harry, please, let me show you—let me show you what I feel.”
Harry blinked. Tom was so hard that it was—flattering. And he was so different from what Harry had thought he was. And protecting him from Dumbledore meant that Harry didn’t want to just shove him away.
He did try one more time. “You don’t have to. I just wanted to say that.”
“I want to.”
Harry wavered. It had been a long, long time. And Tom wasn’t some naïve child, and he probably wasn’t ever going to choose Jonquil, and he had seen the truth of Harry’s soul and not turned away.
Any more than Harry could turn away from him.
Harry swallowed. Tom’s eyes locked on the motion, and he smiled a second later, but it wasn’t the smug, self-satisfied smile that would have made Harry shove him away and walk off without looking back. “Yes?” he asked.
“Yes,” Harry whispered, and reached for him. “Just the once,” he did manage to add, before Tom’s mouth sealed over his.
But mocking Harry was no way to convince him, and Tom didn’t want to do that anyway. There were so many better things he could be doing. He dragged Harry upstairs, and into the bedroom that was waiting for them. Tom had time to notice the deep green color of the covers and that Harry had no pictures on his walls before they tumbled down onto the blankets.
Harry kissed him softly, sweetly, for a while, but Tom was starving and he broke away, fastening his mouth on Harry’s collarbone and wringing a groan out of him. Then he took off Harry’s shirt and belt and shoes before Harry could stop him. Harry wriggled out of the trousers himself, then concentrated on Tom and snapped his fingers.
For a second, Tom felt the same pressure on his skin that he had when Harry filled the kitchen below with his magic. His clothes whisked off him, turning transparent for a second like they were actually melting through him, and ended up on the floor.
Tom rolled on top of Harry and kissed him crushingly. God, he was going to come right there if Harry didn’t stop it with the magic for a while.
Harry arched up against him, which made Tom aware of something more important. Harry still had pants on. Tom reached down and traced the line of his cock through the cloth, watching as Harry lost control for a second and his magic shone through his eyes.
“Do you want me to take them off?” Tom murmured.
Tom smiled, pleased himself that Harry didn’t go back on his commitments once he’d decided to make them, and yanked off the pants. Harry sighed and settled further into the blankets, accepting Tom between his legs.
Tom stroked Harry gently, watching as his eyes clouded in pleasure when Tom’s fingers ran around the head of his cock or followed the path of the vein up to it. Then Harry seemed to shake himself, and he reached down to take Tom in hand.
“Faster than that,” Tom muttered, half-closing his eyes as he fought back the desire to come right away. “To the side—no, the right one, not the left one. Over there.”
“Bossy in bed, aren’t you?” Harry asked, but Tom didn’t mind that. He just liked that Harry’s voice was breathless and he was twisting and twitching his head back and forth. He liked the way Harry’s eyes blazed again before they slid entirely shut, and his hand firmed up and he did what Tom commanded.
Tom himself stroked just a little under the head of Harry’s cock, and asked, “Are you going to come?”
“Oh, Merlin,” Harry moaned. He apparently liked being asked questions like that. He shuddered and orgasmed all over Tom’s hand.
Tom smiled and watched as the sparks swam to the surface of Harry’s eyes, as he grinned, as he reached out and stroked Tom harder. Then Tom graciously yielded to his own impulses and shuddered through his own pleasure, more intense than it had ever been when he was in bed with someone. Harry was watching him with bright, narrow eyes. He sighed when Tom was done and reached for his wand.
“You don’t need a wand to clean us up,” Tom told him in a thick voice.
“No, but if I use wandless magic, you’ll want to go again already.” Harry yawned and used gentle Cleaning Charms to get rid of the mess. He nodded to Tom’s clothes. “Don’t you think you should get back to Fleamont and Euphemia’s house before someone finds you here?”
“Are you kicking me out?”
“Er, well, I assumed you wouldn’t want anyone to know—”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Tom said, and kissed Harry thoroughly, finding that Harry nearly melted under him, the way he had back in the kitchen. He likes that, too. Tom carefully added it to his mental list of things worth remembering. “I don’t care what your relatives say. I don’t intend to let you go now.”
Harry said nothing, but only nodded, his eyes opaque. He did cast a Locking Charm at the door before he drew the blankets over them, but Tom didn’t care.
If he wants to prevent someone from stumbling in on us, that’s perfectly fine. No one should ever know what he looks like naked except me.
Harry frowned at the ceiling for a little while after Tom had fallen asleep. That had felt good and he didn’t regret it, but it had to be a one-time thing. It was probably going to be a one-time thing on Tom’s part. He was just overcome by the sight of Harry defending him from Dumbledore. Once he realized that he could still return to his own world and had a chance of fighting Dumbledore instead of yielding, he would go.
Harry would miss him. He would give him what help he could. But this couldn’t continue.
It can’t, Harry reassured himself as he finally closed his eyes and enjoyed the warm weight next to him, and the casual arm flung over his chest, for one night. He wants me, sure. But he’s not in love with me.
Chapter 14: Waking Revelations
Harry groaned a little as he woke. There was something pinning one of his arms to the mattress, which wasn’t good, and at the same time, there was incredible pleasure locked around him, drawing him deeper into a wet mouth. He thought he must still be dreaming.
And then he opened his eyes and found the blankets knotted around his arms, holding them back, and Tom kneeling between his legs, sucking Harry’s morning erection down his throat with incredible determination.
“Fuck,” Harry gasped, his hips tilting up and his eyes rolling back. Then he shook his head. No, this would only confuse things. He had only meant to do anything with Tom once, he’d made that promise to himself…
His thoughts scattered again as Tom licked all around him with the same level of attention that Harry could imagine him bringing to conquering the world. But this couldn’t happen, and Harry directed a burst of magic through his skin at the blankets. They melted away as if they’d never existed, taking the magical bonds with them that Tom must have put there.
Harry promptly sat up and pulled Tom’s head off him. “No,” he said softly.
Tom blinked at him, large eyes with a shine deep in them that Harry wanted to surrender to. He held himself back from doing it. “But I only wanted to make you feel good,” Tom said softly. He raised a hand to touch Harry’s hip.
Harry fought for control of himself. Tom’s voice was hoarse. It made him imagine all sorts of things that he—
Wasn’t going to imagine. Harry gave Tom a tight smile and said, “Last night was nice. But it can’t happen again.”
“Because you want to return to your world. And I don’t want to go with you. And you’ll regret it if you sleep with me.”
Tom licked his lips. “I haven’t seen anything to regret so far. Not your emotions or your magic or your level of interest in me or your…taste.”
Harry held back a groan. Tom wasn’t as evil as Harry had thought he was, but that didn’t mean he didn’t seduce people. “I want someone who will want to stay with me all their days.”
“And I do want that. I want you to come back with me, and engage in earning the justice that people in my world don’t have. You’ve seen Dumbledore. You think that he’s going to allow me to just return? Or that he’ll be fair to the people who follow me? Or anyone else, Muggleborn or not, who’s caught casting the Unforgivables?”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “That was something you planned to use to lure me after you, wasn’t it? That there’s a world full of people to save?”
“Yes.” Tom said it without a trace of shame. “The way I originally planned to use the pleasure that exploded between us when we touched.” He sat up and shook back a lock of his disheveled hair, which was so unfairly handsome that Harry restrained another groan. “It doesn’t mean that I despise you, Harry. It means that I want you so much I would have done anything.”
“Would have done?”
“I’ve realized that I can’t trick you like that. It has to be your own choice. And if you want someone who can keep up with you, and someone who would never be afraid of your magic, and someone who would always desire you, then I’ll be everything you need.”
Harry took a deep breath. “I want someone more than that, although it’s a good start. I want someone who loves me. And someone who wants to stay in this dimension, where for the first time in my life I have family.”
Tom tilted his head as if listening for the sound of distant bells. “I think I could grow to love you. I don’t know if I would describe myself as arriving there yet. I’ve never loved anyone in my life except my mother, and even then, I don’t know if the emotion would be recognizable to you.”
Harry blinked. That was more honest than he’d expected. He’d thought he would get more coaxing or a flat refusal. “What about staying here with me?”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Tom stretched out, his body lounging on the bed with such grace that Harry licked his lips. Tom smiled at him, but his voice remained calm and serious. “You sacrificed part of your magic to keep the portal to your first world open. But even then, you retained enough strength to challenge Dumbledore. What about sacrificing it to keep the portal to my world open?”
“What would that accomplish?” But Harry could feel something odd, distant, speeding his heartbeat up. Hope. It felt like hope.
“It would mean that you could give up even more magical strength, and be closer to the wizard that you want to be. And it would mean that you could live here permanently, but come visit me. And I could come visit you.”
Harry stared at Tom with his mouth slightly open. Tom leaned over and kissed him. “I didn’t know that could shut you up with such efficiency,” he murmured after a moment, drawing back so that his lips were barely moving against Harry’s. “I do prefer kisses, though.”
“I—that’s not possible, Tom. You must know it isn’t.”
Tom had put his chin on his hand and was giving Harry a rapt stare that wasn’t good at all for Harry’s chances of willing his erection down. He took a deep breath and mustered the strength that had let him defy Dumbledore for Tom yesterday, no matter that the man looked like someone he had grieved. “Because you’ll be fighting a war. What time will you have to visit me? And I won’t want to go through your portal to the other side.”
“If you truly want me to only visit you, I suppose I can’t stop you. But you’ll give me some advice for dealing with fools like Dumbledore, at least?”
Harry shook his head. “This doesn’t seem like you, Tom. Have you given up the chance of having me help you in your war that easily?”
Tom flinched a little. He could imagine what kinds of mocking laughter he would get from some people if he voiced the things that were on his mind now.
But those people in his world who would have laughed at him were not Harry, he reminded himself. So he found the courage to hold Harry’s gaze and forge ahead.
“I realized something last night. Or partially realized it and then thought about it this morning while I was waiting for you to wake up. If it comes down to a choice between having your help in my war and having you as a lover, then I’ll take the second.”
Now Harry was actually gaping at him. Tom began to smile despite himself. “What? Is it so unbelievable that someone might want you for yourself?”
“You’re talking like you’re in love with me.”
“I don’t think I am, yet,” Tom said, after giving the idea due considerations. “It hasn’t been that long since I changed my mind. But after I watched you stand up against Dumbledore for me—” He shook his head. “There might have been some people who wanted to do that for me in the past, but no one who actually could. It was exhilarating, Harry.”
His voice lowered on the last words despite himself, really despite himself, not because he was trying to use it to make a point, and Harry gaped at him again. Then he shook his head. “You can’t have changed this quickly.”
Tom snorted a little. “You’re the one who keeps making a point of how young I am. I’m changing because no one really challenged me in my life before. Everyone either completely ignored me or kept out of my way. Or I overcame the challenge and punished them.” He smiled a little as he thought of some of the spells he had cast on those who tried to bully him in Slytherin. “You’re the first one who stood up to me and didn’t make me resent you.”
“That should change soon, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“You only like this because of the novelty. Soon you’ll get bored and go back to wanting to overcome my challenge like always.”
“No,” Tom said, and although he didn’t raise his voice, he must have done something right with the force of his tone, because Harry paused. “This isn’t a new kind of challenge, it’s something I never saw before. Someone who’ll fight for me and fight with me and who’s stronger than I am and let me see his darkest memories? Someone who already saved the world? And the sex is amazing, too? Where in the world am I ever going to find that again?”
“I—” Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Dumbledore in my world was a mentor to me. I only stood up to this one last night because he was wrong.”
“But see, you thought that. Most people in my world think Dumbledore is the epitome of infallibility. He’s spent a long time carefully ensuring that people think that about him, of course. But a lot of his opponents would still be too weak to do it. Or too afraid. You aren’t.”
“Because of my power. Which is just this side of freakish.”
“I don’t appreciate it when you call yourself that word.”
“I saw it in your memories of those Muggles you lived with. Don’t say it, Harry. If you really think of yourself that way, it would explain some things, though,” Tom added thoughtfully. “You’re convinced I only want you for your freakish magic, and I’ll leave when you won’t use that magic to give me a political edge.” He smiled when he saw the wary look in Harry’s eyes. “Hit it right on, didn’t I?”
Harry swallowed. But he’d never given Tom reason to doubt his courage, and he didn’t now, either. “You don’t have any other reason to stay with me. You haven’t known me long enough. We’re not friends. I can’t—won’t—help you in your quest to take over your world. What else does Tom Gaunt want?”
“All those things you talked about, yes.” Tom’s hand slid over Harry’s hip, and Harry gasped and let his eyes slip shut. “Unlike you, I’m willing to give them time to grow. And we’ll become something you never even envisioned.”
“Friends who are also lovers.”
Harry closed his eyes harder. Then he reached out and removed Tom’s hand from him. Tom waited. He didn’t intend to retreat, he never intended to give up the ground that he’d gained, but he could wait and see what Harry wanted to say.
“You’re still holding out hope to persuade me.”
“About conquering my world? Not really. But it would be fantastic if you did.” Tom waited a second to see if Harry would make that decision, and sighed and shook his head when Harry only glared at him. “Well. Anyway. You can still give me advice. If you stabilize the portal, then I can still visit. And we can still be lovers.”
“I only want to have sex with people who love me.”
“And yet, last night.”
“That felt good.” Harry gnawed the inside of his cheek. “It felt like the right decision at the time. But now…”
Tom caught his hand and kissed it in the center of his palm. He let his tongue dart out, the tip just touching the lines that Professor Thornberry back at Hogwarts would say predicted long life and good fortune, and Harry gasped. “Please don’t regret that,” Tom murmured, pulling back. “We can do it again if it feels like the right decision to you and it feels good. But don’t regret it.”
Harry hesitated one more time. Then he said, “All right. In the meantime, why don’t you tell me more about Dumbledore in your world and the way that he gained power, so I’ll understand him if we need to confront him?”
Tom smiled and leaned back with his head on Harry’s flank so that he could talk about it. He could think of no one else who would have done as much for him, who would even have considered as much.
Of course, perhaps that came from the fear that people held of Dumbledore in his world, while Harry had no reason to feel such terror. But Tom decided he was allowed to think about and value the difference.
Harry sighed when he felt Dumbledore’s magic approaching behind him. He had thought that would happen the minute he ventured out of Godric’s Hollow, and it was one of the reasons he had come here in the first place. But he still didn’t like the thought of another confrontation.
At least it had to be more pleasant than the one that had happened with Jonquil this morning, when she had seen him and Tom coming out of his room together and turned around to flee. Harry had called her name, but she hadn’t stopped. He knew he would probably need to speak with her when he got back home.
So maybe this is actually my first confrontation of the day, Harry thought idly as he watched Albus walk over the crest of the hill and stand looking at him. His face was soft with grief Harry thought was real. That still didn’t mean he needed to yield to it. He had outgrown his impulse to give in merely because Albus was disappointed with him.
“You do not understand what you are helping.”
“No, I do. He talked to me last night and told me a lot about you.” Some of the things, actually, Tom hadn’t even known he was revealing. Harry had enough knowledge from his own world to fill in the gaps Tom had to guess at. “You were scarred even more by the affair with Grindelwald than you were in my world.”
Albus stopped moving. For a second, Harry thought he saw his lips twitch under his huge white moustache. Then he shook his head. “Mr. Gaunt is so much younger than I am that I fear he misunderstands.”
“I’m a little older than him, and I have a lot more experience with you in particular,” Harry said quietly. “I asked him whether there are any other Dumbledores in the world. He seemed puzzled. I think that both your brother and your sister died in that fight you had with Grindelwald, correct? And the guilt eats at you still. And it makes you much harsher with people who know Dark Arts or Unforgivables or any other magic that you think is terrible than you otherwise would be. Because you thought you knew better once, and you failed yourself and your family. You should be able to trust yourself the most. But you’re afraid. You trust no one. Tom doesn’t think so, but I think that someday, after you’ve taken away the knowledge from everyone else, you would Obliviate yourself of the knowledge of all the Dark spells you could. And you would smile as you did it.”
Albus was frozen entirely now, staring at Harry. Harry stared back. His magic was drawn up around him, in what he knew would be visible only as a starry silhouette glittering in the air. But he didn’t know yet if he would need to use it.
“I’m sorry for you,” Harry added softly.
Albus swallowed as if Harry’s words had given him back the ability to breathe, and then leaned forwards. “If you understand, if you know, then you should empathize with me, and not Gaunt! You should understand that there’s no way we can permit this knowledge to continue to exist and either reveal us to the Muggles or start a civil war. Or maybe support some wizarding dictator who thinks he has the right to conquer Muggles, someday. Why are you on Gaunt’s side?”
Harry stepped closer. His magic wanted to spark and get away from him, but he held it in. There was no threat here. Maybe he could make Albus understand.
Maybe not. The man had always been stubborn.
“I don’t think the same way you do. I think some people can be trusted. I think that sometimes we might need to keep the Dark Arts around, if only to know how to defend against them. I don’t think getting rid of knowledge or burning books is a good thing. And most of all, I think that altering people’s minds and memories without their consent is a worse evil than almost anything else people can do.”
Some light went out in the back of Albus’s eyes. He turned and looked out over the quiet green hills of Godric’s Hollow. Harry waited.
Then he turned back, and the light was still out, but his jaw was firm. “You can’t understand the world being on your shoulders.”
He stopped, because Harry was laughing. Harry shook his head and got control of the laughter, which was more of a wheeze. “Of course I can. In my own world, I defeated a Dark Lord, just like you did. And after I did, people worshipped me like they worshipped you. But I never chose to make myself a ruler. Or to impose my will.”
“If you—the evil you saw—”
“I decided to trust that other people wouldn’t perpetuate it. I didn’t erase their minds so they wouldn’t.”
Albus looked truly helpless for a second, and Harry felt his own heart quiver. He would have given a lot to help the other man.
Instead of arguing with him, though, Albus only shook his head, murmured, “You are not giving any justifications that I have not thought to myself in the dead of night,” and turned and disappeared.
Harry turned around and walked quietly back to his family, and Tom.
Chapter 15: This Day of Fighting
“I need to talk to you, Harry.”
At least Jonquil had come to do it before Harry felt he had to track her down. He nodded and stood up from the little table in the garden where he and Tom had been talking about possible ways to convince Dumbledore to leave. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
His cousin, red-eyed, nodded back to him and turned away to walk further into the house. Harry paused when he realized Tom was coming with him.
“No. She’s so distraught right now that this would make her feel worse. I would do the same thing if you’d chosen her,” Harry added, when he saw Tom’s mouth opening. “I wouldn’t speak to both of you at the same time. She feels overwhelmed, and she should. I at least owe her an explanation that makes her feel better instead of worse.”
Tom folded his arms and looked him up and down from head to foot. “And you think anything will?”
“Well, maybe not. But having you there will make her feel worse. Stay here, Tom. And no magical eavesdropping.”
Tom sat down slowly. He was still staring at Harry. Harry didn’t have the time to stop and reassure him, though. He had to hope Tom would do as he was told. Harry turned and went into the house instead.
Jonquil was waiting in a corner of the small study where Dorea and Harry had sometimes had tea in the days when they were getting to know each other. It had dark green paint on the walls and a motif of leaping foxes that Dorea had told Harry her son Arthur had liked when he was young. Harry hoped it would be comforting for Jonquil now.
“You stole him from me.”
Or maybe not, Harry added dryly to himself, and sat down across from her. “I didn’t steal him. Tom is in charge of who he sleeps with, Jonquil. He chose to give himself to me. I accepted.”
And that sure does sound like it’s a permanent thing instead of a temporary one, doesn’t it? Since people don’t usually give gifts back after they enjoy them once.
Jonquil interrupted before Harry could pursue that line of thought. “But I thought you wanted him to date me.”
“I thought it would be better if he did. Good for you. Good for him, because ultimately I think you’re a better match.” Harry lowered his eyes as he realized he was lying, but he pushed on. “But I can’t do anything about what Tom wants, Jonquil. He was the one who made the decision to sleep with me. Are you saying that I should have refused and sent him to you instead?”
Jonquil flushed heavily. Harry winced to himself. He probably shouldn’t have put it that way. It sounded as though she was asking for something embarrassing. And she hadn’t even asked for it. Harry was the one who had phrased it that way.
“Are you going to sleep with him again?”
“No,” Harry said. He didn’t think he was lying this time.
Maybe. But there was still the issue that no matter how good it felt to be with Tom, they were from different worlds and wanted different things. And among those things, for Harry, was peace in the heart of his family. He wouldn’t have that if just the sight of him hurt and alienated Jonquil.
“Okay,” Jonquil said, sounding as if she were talking to herself. “Okay. I can live with that. Can you tell him that I want to—date him?”
“You have to tell him that yourself.”
“But I can’t! He looks—he gives you this look, like he’s mocking you without saying a word. Maybe you’ve never seen it—”
“I have,” Harry said dryly. The fact that it had come from a sixteen-year-old shard of Tom Riddle’s soul in another universe was going to have to go unsaid.
“Then you know what I mean. Will you please ask him for me, Harry? Ask him if he can just—consider giving me a chance?”
“I can’t do that, Jonquil. Not just because you should yourself,” Harry added as she opened her mouth again. “But because I can’t dictate his decisions. He should be allowed to make his own, to want what he wants. The only thing I can control is how I respond. I won’t sleep with him again, but that doesn’t mean I’ll tell him he should date my cousin instead.”
“You want to sleep with him again!”
“Even if I do, did you hear what I said about only controlling my own actions?”
Jonquil stood up abruptly and moved away to stand near the window that overlooked the garden. Harry watched her, his throat aching with pity. He had always thought his cousin was ambitious and spirited—sometimes too much so, since she had such trouble making a decision about what she wanted to do with her life. But now it hurt to see her so broken down.
I wish I could do something for her.
But until Jonquil decided what to do about her life—something that didn’t involve courting Tom when he didn’t want to be courted—then Harry didn’t think he could say or do anything that would give her a path forwards.
“Promise me that you’ll stay away from him.”
“Do you mean ignoring him? Not talking to him? No, I won’t do that.”
“If you could understand,” Jonquil said, her voice low, “what he meant to me. The promise of escaping from her. There are so many eyes watching me here. I know Grandmama Dorea means well, but I can’t do anything without her asking questions. And I thought I could finally leave and follow someone to London, or even another world, and they would leave me alone.”
“Have you asked them to stop watching you like that?”
“I did. They keep telling me that I’m a child. I’m legally of age!”
“I know. I think you may need to remind them again. Do you want me to do it?”
Jonquil stared at him and then gave a hiccoughing little laugh. “Of course not. You’ve made me miserable enough already.” Then she turned and walked out the door that led into the garden near the window she’d been looking through. Harry stood to watch her, and saw her grab her wand and cut the head from a daisy viciously before she was out of sight.
“I’m glad to know that at least you aren’t going to cater to her excessively.”
Harry jumped and swore as the door opened behind him. “You were listening,” he told Tom flatly.
“Yes. You only said that I couldn’t eavesdrop through magical means. Nothing about simply standing near the door with an ear to it.” Tom shut the door behind him. Harry eyed him. For some reason, he had a nasty smile on his face, even though Harry thought he ought to have been happy about the things Harry had told Jonquil.
“What are you angry about?”
“You won’t sleep with me again?”
“No.” Harry narrowed his eyes as Tom stepped towards him. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to push you to sleep with Jonquil. Is that what you thought I was doing?” He could understand why Tom was angry now.
“No,” Tom said, his voice low. “And I understand that I can’t force you if you’re set against it. But it sounded to me awfully as if you were saying that we wouldn’t sleep together again so you could placate your cousin.”
Harry sighed a little and wished he was on a broom at the moment, riding up and up and up. He seemed to think better in the sky. And he hadn’t flown often since he’d come to this world, since he was so busy working and getting to know his family. “I think that our sleeping together was a mistake because we don’t have a future together.”
Tom set his feet as if he was getting ready to charge something. “What kind of future would you like us to have?”
“I want a peaceful life. Not one at war,” Harry added when Tom opened his mouth. “Not one where I have to watch my back, the way I did before I came here. And you saw what it was like when people tried to date me in my old world. They wanted me for my magic or my fame, or they were pretending to love me so they could get close enough to kill me.”
“You want an uncomplicated love affair?”
“So, a boring one.”
“You don’t understand,” Harry hissed, taking a step towards Tom. “I want peace. I was starting to have that before you showed up. Now you’ve stirred everything up, and if nothing else, Jonquil isn’t going to be peaceful at heart for a long time! What do you want me to say, Tom? Sleeping with you was a mistake because it destroyed what I valued most!”
Tom held himself back. It was an unfamiliar situation. He was used to being around people that he was either allied to and could speak as he liked in front of, or he was used to playing a political game around those he had to speak softly to. Even with the soft words, at least he was doing something.
But this was just self-restraint, waiting for Harry to calm down. When he did, his chest heaving a little, Tom said softly, “You told me that Jonquil was restless before I got here. That she was looking for someone to get her out of here or tell her what her ambition is or teach her to rebel.”
“Yes, I said that, because it’s the truth.”
“Then how can you say that I’m the one who destroyed her peace, or that you sleeping with me did? Jonquil can’t make up her mind, she can’t make a decision. That’s not your fault, that’s not mine. It’s hers, and I refuse to believe that either of us has anything to do with it.”
Harry’s eyes darkened, and for a second, his hair stirred around him in a wind that Tom couldn’t feel. Then Harry turned his head away and muttered, “She would have been happier if she hadn’t seen me sleeping with you, though.”
“That doesn’t matter. I heard you say that you don’t control my actions. I would still have chosen you and not Jonquil no matter if we slept together last night or not.”
Harry didn’t answer. His face was quiet, dark, closed-off. It bothered Tom more than Harry’s loud rejections of him in the past had. He moved closer and shut his hand around Harry’s, shaking it a little when Harry tried to pull free.
“You control your own actions, your own feelings. Not mine. I’m going to continue to feel about you as I do. Even if I go back to my own world and the portal shuts behind me and I deal with Dumbledore there, I’ll still remember you as the greatest experience of my life.”
That got a rise out of Harry, as he had thought it might. Harry turned back towards him with narrowed eyes and hands reaching out as if he would clutch at Tom’s shoulders, although he stopped them before they got there. “You can’t!”
“Because I don’t want people pining over me! That was exactly what people did in my world after they decided that I was a bloody hero! I don’t want people wanting me when it’s hopeless!”
“But you can’t do anything about my feelings,” Tom said lightly. “Besides, I was only telling you what would happen for a while. I would probably get over you. Eventually. Although I don’t know if there would be a chance I could fall in love with someone again. Trust them and sleep with them, sure.”
Harry slowly stepped back so that the only thing that connected them was Tom’s hold on his wrist. “But I wouldn’t know if you did, because the portal would be closed.”
“Exactly.” Tom inclined his head, not looking away from Harry’s face. He’d never seen someone look that conflicted over being told that someone else desired them. He still wanted to destroy the people who had been responsible for Harry looking like that, but he was allowed to also enjoy the hilarity.
Harry closed his eyes. He said nothing, but Tom watched the way that his face rippled with changing, hidden emotions.
Tom normally never would have asked, but unlike most people he knew, Harry would probably explain what he was thinking about. “The idea is that distressing to you?”
Harry swallowed and opened his eyes. There was a blaze in them that Tom hadn’t expected to see. He shifted a step closer without even thinking about it. His hand was reaching out, and Harry clasped it and kissed the middle of Tom’s palm.
“Harry?” Tom breathed.
“I was just thinking that for once I wish this was simple, and that you weren’t from another world and a version of the man whose soul I had in my head and someone my cousin desired,” Harry said. He was staring at the ground, but his fingers were tight around Tom’s wrist, almost crushingly so. “I—I think I could come to really love you, Tom. But I have to put duty before everything else. And it fucking sucks.”
“You don’t need to do that for my sake,” Tom said, and pressed closer, so that Harry could feel the lines of his body and his erection, and look down into his eyes and his smile. “Please, Harry. Follow your own desires for once. You can’t change my feelings, or Jonquil’s, or the past. But you control your own actions, you said. Well, prove that. Do what you want, for once.”
Harry closed his eyes. He knew that it wouldn’t matter much, because Tom was still holding his hands and they were trembling, but at least it meant that he wasn’t looking right into Tom’s face and he couldn’t get distracted that way.
Instead, he thought about the storm of emotions that filled him.
He wanted Tom. He wanted to sleep with him again, even though he had told Jonquil that he wouldn’t. He wanted to spend time with him, and help him lessen Dumbledore’s power in the world he’d come from. He might even want to sacrifice some more of his magic to keep that portal open.
He wanted to stay here with his family and enjoy the peace he’d found. He wanted to heal creatures and not destroy things or people. He wanted to see a smile on Jonquil’s face and know that he’d put it there. He wanted to see her achieve her ambitions. He wanted to laugh with Dorea and ignore Calliope’s hostility and get to know the younger children when they came back from Hogwarts. He wanted to get closer to Fleamont and Euphemia.
All of those desires raced and curled like waves through him, and he was no closer to figuring out what he really wanted, what kind of desire should take precedence over the others.
Which meant he had to go back to the idea of duty.
But it was so hard. And even the most responsible, clear-headed conversation he could think of having with Jonquil hadn’t made her happy. He feared, a little, that nothing would, except Tom disappearing forever or Tom taking her with him.
And if he stayed with Tom, or helped him lessen Dumbledore’s power, then he wouldn’t have to sacrifice the peace he had with his family forever. Would he? Harry just couldn’t imagine that he would have to. His tongue trembled in his mouth, and he gripped his hands together.
Tom’s voice was soft, low, commanding. Harry opened his eyes and saw Tom’s shining back at him, as bright as they had been when he was first trying to seduce Harry.
“No matter what you decide, you’ll have me with you. Until the day when you decide that you don’t want me there after all.”
Harry managed to make his voice emerge from his mouth. It was raspy as if he’d been drinking fire. “I—I can’t have you, Tom.”
“Why not? Since we both agree that you should.”
“Because it would hurt Jonquil. And you can’t fit into the pattern of the life that I’ve been imagining for myself.”
“Your cousin will feel the way she feels. You say that you can’t control the way she feels? Then leave her to it. Maybe she’ll move away from Godric’s Hollow because she decides that she has to, but she might do that the day she discovers her ambition, anyway. And I want you to have what you want, Harry. That includes your peace and your family. The ability to move back and forth between my world and yours. Me at your side.”
Harry closed his eyes, overwhelmed. What Tom talked about sounded wonderful.
And nothing in his life had ever been that wonderful without being a trap.
Harry whispered, “I do want to keep you here. To be with you. But it just—it seems that I can’t. Because nothing I desire that much ever comes true.”
Tom kissed him, and continued kissing him, until Harry’s head was whirling. Then he said softly, “I’ll do what’s necessary to help you bring that vision to life and keep it there. Can you trust me? Can you let me fight with you, instead of thinking that you need to achieve it all by yourself?”
Harry couldn’t speak. This time, it really did feel as if he was being seduced. In the end, it wasn’t the pleasure that Tom’s touch had once sparked between them that was the ultimate seduction.
It was the prospect of someone so focused on him, committed to him, and offering to help him fight. God, it turned Harry’s head.
Tom kissed him again as if he had spoken, and said softly, “Good.”
Chapter 16: A Visit in Wisdom
“Where are you going?” Tom’s voice was pleasant, but his strides lengthened until he was right beside Harry, and his hand was out as if he was going to grip his arm and restrain him.
Harry gave him a faint smile. “I’m going to talk to someone who can tell me what she thinks I should do—someone I trust more than anyone else. Dorea loves me, but she doesn’t know me very well. Jonquil would only advise me to do what would benefit her. And I know that you would also try to give me advice that would benefit you.”
“I’d like to come with you and meet your most trusted source of advice.”
Harry turned around and faced him. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Tom. That would be a horrible idea.”
“Because they would recognize you. They knew the shards of soul that your alternate self hid in his Horcruxes. They wouldn’t listen to a word you said and they would spend all their time glaring at you instead of telling me the truth.”
Tom’s eyes widened. “You’re talking about stepping back through the portal that you held open to your original world.”
“But how can this woman, whoever she is, advise you? You won’t be able to tell her that I’m a variation of Tom Riddle, either, or she’ll spend all her time arguing. But how can she give you honest advice if she doesn’t know the whole truth?”
Harry looked at Tom with admiration. “Honestly, I’m sorry that I can’t introduce you to Hermione. If she could understand you the way I do, then you would get along so well.”
“I don’t want anyone else to understand me the way you do,” Tom purred, and moved close enough to trail a single warm finger down Harry’s arm to his wrist.
Harry shivered. Tom was a lot more seductive when he wasn’t trying with the same focused intensity he’d used at first. Harry shook his head. “No one will,” he said, and backed away a step. “I have to go and talk to her, Tom, even if she won’t understand why I’m attracted to you. I just need—a few days away from here. Someone who doesn’t love Jonquil to tell me about her.”
“I don’t love Jonquil,” Tom said helpfully.
“You hate her,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes. He was sure that Tom hadn’t at first, and probably it still wasn’t the emotion that Tom could bring to bear on Dumbledore, but Harry didn’t want to encourage that emotion to get any stronger. “I’ve got to step away from here, Tom. From the situation here. To think about a lot of things.”
Tom was quiet for a moment, but then nodded. “Are you going to tell your friends that you’ve met someone?”
“Given that you’re part of the reason that I want to see them in the first place?” Harry smirked at him as he stepped away from the back gate of Dorea’s house and began the walk towards his world’s portal. “Of course.”
“That you’ve met someone exclusive?”
“Both of them know me well enough to know that if I’ve met someone, it has to be exclusive,” Harry said, and gently placed his hand on Tom’s arm. Tom was walking along beside him again. “Stay here, please. I’m not going to ask you to soothe Jonquil or the rest of my family, but I am going to ask you to let me go alone.”
“Even to your portal? I can’t walk you there? What if Dumbledore is lurking in the hills?”
Harry could have said that he was much better equipped to handle Dumbledore than Tom was, but a glance at Tom’s face showed him the real reason that Tom wanted to come. His face softening, he nodded. “Then come with me that far. No farther.”
Despite how difficult it was, Tom held to his word and watched Harry disappear into the sparkling portal that hung above the hills before he turned around to walk back to Godric’s Hollow.
He’d been aware of someone following them, and expected to see Albus. He had to pause when it was Jonquil instead, pale-faced and determined. Tom folded his arms.
For Harry’s sake, he would try not to utterly destroy his cousin with words, the way Tom knew he could. But he wasn’t going to spare Jonquil, either. He thought her a spoiled girl whose family worried about her overmuch. Had they given that concern to Harry instead, then Tom would have understood.
“I need to talk to you,” Jonquil said.
Tom nodded a little. “So talk.”
Now that she was here next to him, Jonquil didn’t appear to know what to say. She flushed vividly, and then she clenched her fingers into her palms and said, “I’m not attracted to you so much because you’re handsome—I mean, you’re handsome, but—it’s what you could offer me. Getting away from here and becoming someone.”
“But you don’t have any idea what you want to become, do you?” Tom asked. He watched Jonquil, his mind crystalline, thoughts that he’d never entertained before flying across it like comets. He still swarmed with anger at the memory of what had been done to Harry, but it had been, in this twisted way only, a blessing: Harry had never been left to stew in the uncertainty that was consuming Jonquil. He knew that he had to be a hero, so he went out and did it.
Tom had sometimes hated his own ambition, cursed it when it stretched strange wings and drove him in strange directions, but now he could bless it, too. He had never slowed down like Jonquil did because he had known what he wanted. Power, of all kinds. He studied magic and got revenge on those who bullied him and sought a means of immortality and courted the pure-bloods because of that. Yearning in no particular direction had driven him in all directions.
Jonquil had the yearning without the doing.
“I don’t,” Jonquil said. Tom thought that might be the most honest thing she’d ever said to him. “But I know that I have to get out of here. It’s killing my soul.”
Tom swallowed back the chuckle he wanted to give at that melodramatic declaration. He was only a year older than Jonquil, and he knew he’d never acted like that. “But what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then appealing to me wouldn’t have helped you anyway. I can help people achieve their goals. I can’t help anyone do something when they don’t know what they want themselves.”
Jonquil stared at him with flat eyes. Tom got the impression that he wasn’t supposed to say that. He shrugged. “If you have real ambition, then you’ll find your way to London or wherever else you mean to go soon enough.” He turned away, ready to Apparate. Walking back was losing its appeal.
“How am I supposed to go there? I don’t have any money!”
That made Tom pause. He’d never had the impression that the Potters were poor. “Why don’t you speak to your grandmother? She might have some Black money. I know she wants you to be happy. She’d probably give you enough to set you up with a flat near Diagon Alley, at least.” Jonquil might have to live in Muggle London, but he doubted a Potter would have the same sort of objection to that that he would.
“I don’t—I don’t want to ask her for help. I want to earn my own way.”
Tom didn’t really mean to laugh, but it just came welling out of him. Jonquil stiffened and stared at him in what looked like betrayal. Tom went on hooting. It was hard to stop. He managed to press a hand over his mouth and get himself to do it, finally, and he said, “So at one and the same time, you were thinking of going to another world and becoming some sort of Dark Lady, but you also want to succeed honestly. On your own terms. Without inherited money and advantages. Even though you’re already using those advantages.”
“Shut up! What do you mean?”
Tom stood there. Jonquil glared at him. Tom raised his eyebrows and said politely, “Sorry. I thought you wanted me to shut up.”
Jonquil looked as if she’d like to murder him, at the moment, but managed to restrain herself to a clench of her hand. “Tell me what you mean.”
“You wouldn’t have been allowed to just run around for the year after you graduated Hogwarts if you really didn’t have the Potter money and name behind you,” Tom said plainly. “You would have had to work, probably a lot harder than you have so far. That’s what I mean by you having those advantages. You have parents who love you. Family who loves you. A cousin who would do anything for you, even deny himself what he wants. Those aren’t small things. Fucking find a way.”
Jonquil was staring at him with her eyes wide open and her nostrils narrowed to slits, an odd combination. She took a step back from him. Then she held her ground, although it looked as if it took her a lot of nerve, and snapped, “But you could make things easy for me.”
“If you told me what kind of magic you find in me, if you took me back to your world and inducted me into your cause—”
Tom sighed. It felt as though someone had laid a heavy iron cloak on his shoulders. “You don’t have any idea what my cause is. Who offers to join a cause they don’t know anything about?”
“I know it’s a war!”
“And that’s all you know about it,” Tom snapped at her. “You know that it’s different from here, and you think it’s grand and exciting because of that. You don’t know anything else. Maybe if you seemed interested or helpful, I would have told you.”
“I know you’ve told Harry…”
“Harry is not you. Frankly I don’t understand why he wants to sacrifice so much for you, either, but that’s his decision. Just like it’s mine not to indulge you and to tell you to get the hell out of my way.”
Jonquil stood there for a second, her face flushing more and more steadily, and then turned and marched back down the hill. Tom watched her go with a shake of his head. She might have been more interesting if she had been older or known what she wanted. But as it was, he would leave her as Harry’s problem. He wasn’t about to make her his.
Then Tom Apparated back to Godric’s Hollow, before Dumbledore could come up with some bright idea to waylay him.
Hermione always sounded so relieved whenever she hugged him, as if she thought that he just disappeared when he left them instead of coming back to a loving family. Harry held her as tightly, though. The one thing he regretted about disappearing from this world were his best friends. If they had consented to come with him to his new world, he would have shut the portal behind him.
But they had their families here, just like he had his where he was now, and he understood their choices perfectly. Harry stepped back and smiled at her, only to accept Ron’s hug in return. “How’s your family, Ron?” he muttered into his best friend’s shoulder.
“Mum’s still missing you, you know.” But Ron didn’t press him too much on that, just saying it casually as he stepped away. “Ginny and Dean are engaged.” Harry grinned; he’d hoped that Ginny would put all lingering thoughts of him out of her head, and it looked like she’d done it. “George—he’s never going to go back to normal, I think, but he’s better now that he’s dating Angelina.”
Harry relaxed and sat down on the other side of the dining room table. Ron and Hermione had a beautiful house, a small one but one filled with light and the paintings that they’d bought from Dean and the glittering crystal, abstract shapes that George had made for a few years after Fred’s death. Ron went into the kitchen to get tea and biscuits while Hermione sat across from him and told him about Luna’s new animal sanctuary, Percy’s reforms at the Ministry, Charlie’s discovery of an herb that helped ease dragons’ way out of their eggs, and Arthur’s promotion.
It flowed past him, a life so normal and comfortable that Harry ached. But it wasn’t the kind of life he could have if he stayed here. There were too many demands in this world and too many people who thought they had the right to make those demands.
Hermione finally paused for breath and sipped a little of her tea that Ron had come back with, then grimaced and cast a Warming Charm on it. “So what about you, Harry? Is it still peaceful in your new world?”
“Yes and no. My family is fine. But there are intruders from another world…”
And Harry told them. He had thought about holding back the names, but there wasn’t any point. They wouldn’t be able to understand what agitated him so much if they didn’t know that those people were Tom and Dumbledore. Ron would just tell Harry to court and marry a “normal” girl, and get rid of anyone less powerful and persistent than Dumbledore.
And less beloved.
Harry would always feel ambivalent about his version of Dumbledore, but he would also always remember the times the man had saved him and trusted him and done the best he could, according to his own lights. It wasn’t simple.
Hermione’s hand went to her mouth and stayed there after Harry told them that this was Tom Riddle. Ron just gaped, then shut his mouth. Neither of them reacted calmly to the appearance of Dumbledore, but neither interrupted. Ron turned bright red. Hermione closed her eyes and listened to the rest of the story that way.
Hermione finally whispered, “Oh, Harry. What do you want?”
Harry nibbled the last biscuit he held all the way around before he replied. “I want to be happy. I want to be peaceful. I admire Tom, I’m attracted to him, but—in a way, I can’t help but wish he’d never come to Godric’s Hollow. He’s ripping up all my peace.”
“You want a normal life because you were denied one for so long.”
“And Dumbledore?” Ron asked, nose wrinkled as if he’d smelled something foul. “I mean, no offense, mate, but he sounds—horrible.”
“I know. I want him to leave, and I won’t let him hurt Tom. But I don’t want to hurt him, either. Just to stop him.”
“What do you think would happen if you told Tom that you want your normality back?” Hermione asked quietly. “Would he give it to you, or would he never stop trying to convince you?”
Harry had to snort, mostly because of the words that came to mind, not because he didn’t know the answer. “Tom bloody Riddle—or Gaunt, whatever his last name is in any world—doesn’t know what enough means,” he muttered. “No, I’m sure that he would keep trying to convince me to come with him, or at least do what he suggested. Hold his portal open with my magic so he could come back for visits, I mean.”
“And would that be such a bad thing?”
“Hermione!” Ron interjected. “Of course it would be! Listen to who you’re talking about, here.”
“This Tom never made a Horcrux,” Harry reminded him. “That’s already one huge difference. And like I said, there are things I really, really like about him. But I don’t want to upset Jonquil, either.”
“Well, Tom isn’t going to stop trying to persuade you,” Hermione said. “And Jonquil isn’t going to get over this tomorrow. So you have to decide what you want. You can’t guide your actions by what would make them happy, because they want different things.”
Harry blinked. “Yeah, I mean, I knew that.”
“I think you would keep on trying to make them both happy.”
“I did practically promise Jonquil that I wouldn’t sleep with Tom again.”
“You shouldn’t keep that promise if you don’t want to,” Hermione said at once, quick, clear-eyed, soft. “You should sacrifice part of your magic to hold that portal open if you want to, Harry. But only if you want to. You should send Dumbledore back to his own world and tell Jonquil to get over it if you want to. You won’t get back the same peace you had, I think. If only because you would miss Tom when he goes back to his world. You’ll need to fight your way to a different kind of peace.”
“I can’t believe that you call him Tom as if that doesn’t matter,” Ron broke in.
“He’s really not the same person I fought. I think I can accept that now.”
Ron rolled his eyes and sighed. “Fine. Then I agree with Hermione. Do what you want. Don’t act as though Jonquil’s resentment or Tom’s desire to have you go back to his world with him are the things that matter most. I mean, mate, consider this. You found someone to sleep with in another world when you never found anyone here. That has to mean something, right?”
Harry closed his eyes and finally confronted what he’d been denying. When he was around Tom, dueling him or sleeping with him or listening to him talk or plotting with him against his world’s Dumbledore, he felt more. The ache he felt when he saw the pain in Jonquil’s eyes—
It just didn’t matter as much to him.
Harry swallowed back bitterness. He’d never wanted to hurt her.
But he might not have a choice, as Hermione had pointed out.
He opened his eyes. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “I’m going to go back home and tell Tom that—that I’m his if he wants me.”
“And I think you know,” Hermione said, as she reached out and put a hand on his, “that for him it’s not a question.”
Harry looked down at the table. “Yeah,” he whispered again.
The realization dizzied him, that he was going to risk the happiness he’d wanted so much on the chance of love.
Ron leaned on his shoulder from the side and said, “Enough of that. Tell us about Dorea and Arthur and other people who aren’t Jonquil.”
And Harry let the sense of having his life shifted go for now, to connect with what he had left behind, but would never forget.
Chapter 17: A Visit to the Bedroom
Harry stepped back through his portal and looked around, conjuring a flame on his palm as he watched the shadows on the hills. It appeared to be an hour after dawn, which didn’t surprise him, even though he had only spent a few hours with Ron and Hermione in his first world. Time just didn’t flow at the same pace in both places.
He moved forwards, and touched the edge of an alarm ward with his knee. The tinkle as of a bell was barely audible to him, but it would ring loudly in the ears of whoever had set it.
Harry carefully turned, bracing himself for Albus to come hunting for him. He couldn’t conceive who else would have set up such a thing.
But when the sharp crack of Apparition sounded across the hills, it was Tom who appeared. He was rubbing sleep out of his eyes with one hand. He stepped towards Harry and held his hand out, beaming at him with his head half-tilted. That smile made Harry’s breathing quicken.
Tom seemed to sense the change. “You made some kind of decision.” His voice was neutral.
Harry nodded. “My friend I went to talk to—she told me things I already knew. But I had to have someone who was outside the situation tell me the truth before I was ready to accept it.” He swallowed and moved forwards until his forehead was leaning against Tom’s. “She said that I can’t make both you and Jonquil happy. Even if I tried to rip myself apart to do it, it wouldn’t work.”
“So your decision is?”
“That I want to make myself happy. And that means being with you, Tom.”
Harry thought he would follow up those whispered words with a kiss, and it would be romantic. But he didn’t get the chance. Tom kissed him first, hungrily, fiercely, his hands gripping the sides of Harry’s cheeks like a hawk’s talons. Then he moved back and tugged insistently on Harry’s hand, gesturing with his head towards Godric’s Hollow.
“Come,” he breathed. “Now.”
“But I’m not going to run away,” Harry said. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. I choose you, so that means—”
Tom Apparated them both while he was still trying to argue. Harry stumbled as he found himself in the middle of his bedroom, anti-Apparition wards well and truly torn, with Tom all but vibrating in his arms with impatience. Harry stumbled again as Tom forced him back onto the bed.
“I know you’re not going to run away,” Tom said, with an impatient shake of his head that disordered his hair even more than it already was. “But I’ve been waiting for this moment for days now, while half-convinced that it would never come. You don’t know how hungry I’ve been, Harry.”
Harry reached up and traced his fingers along the line of Tom’s cheekbone, up to his eyes. Tom closed them and stood there as if savoring every moment of the gentle touch.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Harry breathed. “I can see it in the way you look at me.”
And no one had ever really looked at him that way before. So many people in his first world had been blinded by the thought of being with the Chosen One; they hadn’t noticed him, or his disgust for that title. And Ginny had been more sincere, but even then, part of her would always see the boy hero who had come to rescue her in the Chamber of Secrets.
Tom looked and just saw him. Powerful magic and face that Harry thought was average and faded scar and all. And wanted him.
Harry lifted his head to be kissed, and cast away all the defenses that would have made him an innocent victim. Easy to claim that, boring to be it. He wanted Tom back.
Tom had dreamed of Harry’s surrender. Now he had it—
And it was setting him afire.
For the first time in his life, Tom’s hands were clumsy as he undressed a lover. But Harry didn’t make the mocking noises that so many other people would have made. His eyes were bright and soft, and so was his smile. He helped Tom undress him, and then got involved in all the clasps that did up Tom’s clothing. Tom shed them without taking his eyes off Harry, which didn’t hasten the process.
“God, look at you,” Tom purred, as he had the time to take in Harry’s skin. Despite his devouring, flaming famine, he still looked more than he had the first time he and Harry had spent in bed together. “That scar…” He reached out and traced one that wound about Harry’s ribs, up to finish in a squirming splash on his side.
“I know. I have a lot of them.”
Harry’s voice was neutral, but Tom still knew the undertones of it. He kissed Harry, and kept on kissing him until Harry’s eyes were glassy and crossed and his breath was gone.
“You misunderstand me,” Tom told him, voice still soft, still reaching out and yearning. “You don’t need to worry about me finding them ugly. They’re not ugly, Harry. I admire them so much.” He reached out and trailed his fingers over the scar, and Harry spasmed and his cock lifted. He stared at Tom in wonder.
“I—didn’t know that would happen.”
“Because not even you touch yourself here, do you?” Tom kept his voice low, though it wasn’t easy with his own cock trembling between his legs and the wonder cascading through him. “Let me be the first to show you.”
Harry looked at him and then let his eyes flutter shut again when Tom trailed his fingers up the scar. “I didn’t know it had any—I could feel any—”
Tom kissed him, muffling his moan, and finally kicked away the last of his clothes and lay down naked on top of Harry. Harry kissed him back, and then reached up and waved his fingers as if he was gesturing to an audience. Tom looked warily at the door, then back again in time to see Harry’s fingers gleaming brightly.
“Move a little,” Harry breathed to him, “so I can reach my arse.”
Tom actually didn’t move for a moment, because he was so stunned. Then he cleared his throat and said, “We don’t have to—”
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to. But I find I rather want to.”
And Tom had been wrong, again. Harry’s surrender was nothing compared to the sheer flame burning in his eyes.
Tom gave up, and let himself be burned.
Harry had, in fact, never done this before. But he trusted his own magic, and he trusted the way Tom kept staring at him as if Harry was made of pure gold.
Tom wouldn’t actually do anything to hurt him.
Harry wriggled around and stretched and lifted his legs until he was able to slide his fingers into his arse. He grunted. He’d asked his magic for oil that would make him relax as well as lubricate him, and it seemed that was what he was getting.
“God.” Tom’s voice was thick as Harry’s pleasure.
Harry grinned at him and then pressed in further. He gasped in spite of himself when he found what he supposed was his prostate. He ended up grinding his arse into the bed and had to lift his hips again and control his breathing so he could keep going. When he spread his fingers apart, Tom made another thick noise and scrambled down the bed to be beside him.
“As wonderful as watching you do this is, I want to help,” he said, and he grabbed hold of Harry’s hand, moved it, and then inserted his own fingers.
Harry let out a startled cry in response. His hips started rocking and he couldn’t stop. He managed to turn so that he was looking up at Tom and drowning in the thick grey of his eyes, which seemed to spread wider and wider until it ate almost everything else.
Like restraint and common sense, Harry thought as he felt Tom trying to line his cock up in the right position.
“Not—yet,” Harry said, and held out his hand and conjured some more oil. He turned his hand, and Tom got the idea and smeared his own cock. He never looked up from Harry’s arse, which was entertaining by itself. Harry stretched out his legs and managed to hook his ankles around Tom’s, although then Tom shifted and he promptly lost the grip.
“You can look at my eyes, too,” Harry said, and Tom flushed and snapped his up.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said in a hurried whisper, and turned back to staring at Harry’s entrance. Harry decided he felt sufficiently stretched, and it looked like Tom might come in a second if he kept stroking himself, and where was the fun in that? He stretched his back, making Tom look him in the face again.
“I’m ready,” he said, and spread his legs wide enough that his hips ached a little, just in case Tom hadn’t got the idea yet.
This wasn’t surrender, Tom understood then, as he knelt dazed in the middle of Harry’s bed and stared down at his lubed arse and glittering eyes and encouraging smile. This was a gift.
He leaned over and kissed Harry for it, and then he entered him, as slow as slow.
Harry gasped the way Tom had thought he would, and leaned back, tilting his hips up more. A second later, he waved a hand and muttered something, and a Summoned pillow soared towards him. Harry managed to wedge it more or less underneath him so that his hips jutted up to an angle that might be better.
Tom, meanwhile, was clenching his teeth on his tongue. The casual display of Harry’s wandless magic was going to make him come too early unless he concentrated.
“Working on holding back,” Tom said with a warning hiss as he felt Harry edge himself a little closer.
“Oh,” Harry said, and paused for a second, but only until he could work himself further onto the pillow. Then he shoved his arse down, and Tom was part of the way inside Harry before he realized it.
Tom gasped, but this time, he was moving before he thought, thrusting in and thrusting out. Harry reached up and gripped his shoulders hard enough to make bruises blossom all over Tom’s fair skin. But it didn’t matter, not when Tom was riding him, grabbing Harry’s legs, moving, fucking him.
“Yeah,” Harry moaned, his eyes drooping shut, and then he went on repeating that one word in what sounded like a mindless mantra, his hips moving at the same time.
Tom just stared and stared. He had planned all sorts of romantic words to say now. He would impress Harry with how calm and collected he was. But he wasn’t calm and collected, and he couldn’t have completed a sentence for a thousand Galleons. His attention was rooted on Harry, the way his cock was rooted inside him, and nothing was ever going to be better than the tightness squeezing him.
Except knowing that Harry was the one who had given it to him.
Tom reached out and touched Harry’s cock, little tight teasing touches that made Harry tense up at once. Tom hissed as that translated to more warmth around him, and he cupped his hand and stroked once.
Harry came at once, with a grunt of completion, and Tom couldn’t hold back. He came while feeling the warmth thrill all through him and his own helpless thrusts driving himself further into Harry. He came watching Harry’s face twist in pleasure and then relaxation as he opened his eyes and smiled up at Tom.
It was the smile that made the aftermath of Tom’s orgasm more than sleepy heat. He kissed Harry frantically, gripping him and rolling him over while Tom was still inside him. There was a trembling arse around him and a trickle of wetness alongside his cock that he would be disgusted by in a little while.
But for now, there was only Harry’s mouth and eyes and hands.
Harry stirred what was probably late that afternoon when he heard other people moving around the house. Dorea would be wondering why they hadn’t come down for breakfast, he thought drowsily. Or at least why Tom hadn’t. She might not know Harry was back yet.
Harry thought he’d awakened before Tom, but then he sensed the soft, steady motion of a hand in his hair. He looked up at Tom and managed a smile that felt as drowsy as his head. “Good afternoon. Evening. Whatever it currently is.”
“Afternoon,” Tom said, his eyes enormous as he bent over Harry. Harry shivered a little. He’d thought Tom had looked possessive before when he saw Harry’s magic in action and wanted it for himself, but it was nothing to now. Tom’s fingers wound tighter in his hair, and he kissed Harry while holding him imprisoned so firmly that he couldn’t move.
“I don’t ever want someone else to see you like this,” Tom whispered as he relaxed his hold. “Even if you stay here and we have to visit back and forth through my portal. You’re mine.”
Harry shivered and said nothing. Part of him was a little angry, considering that for all Tom knew they might have an argument tomorrow and Tom would end up going back through his portal alone and Harry would spend the rest of his life without him. But the rest of him...
He hadn’t minded the general concept of people interested in holding him and holding onto him. He’d only minded the concept of the wrong reasons for it. Someone who wanted him as a weapon or a tool or a pawn was right out.
But Tom’s hands were still stroking his hair as if Harry’s scalp held the secrets of the universe. That kind of possessiveness, he didn’t mind.
“What are we going to tell Jonquil?” he murmured with his eyes closed. He turned so his head was more fully in Tom’s lap. He knew he could go right back to sleep if he didn’t watch himself.
It was part of the reason he’d asked the question. Tom’s leg tensed underneath him, and he hissed, “That doesn’t matter. If you still think that you’re going to put her feelings above mine and yours when we’ve done this—”
“Calm down, Tom.” Harry reached out and clasped Tom’s wrist without opening his eyes. “I didn’t mean that. I meant that I’m not going to hide this, so we’ll tell her, because the last thing she knew, I was promising to back off and not sleep with you again.”
“Well, after the confrontation I had with her yesterday, she won’t be expecting sweetness and light from me.”
Harry turned his head. “What did you do?”
“You always assume I’m at fault,” said Tom, and he managed to sound exactly as bitter as Harry would expect. “You never once put me above your cousin, even when she—”
Harry reached out, caught Tom’s chin, and kissed him firmly enough that Tom didn’t even stutter when Harry let him go. “I’m putting you above her because you’re my—lover now,” Harry said firmly. He wasn’t sure if “boyfriend” or “partner” could apply. “But you’re also more intelligent and calmer than she is, Tom. So I know you could have avoided upsetting her if you wanted to. What did you say?”
Tom stared at him. Harry reached up and deliberately tweaked his nose.
Tom drew his head back with a hiss of disgust, shook it, and finally said, “All right, Harry. I told her that I couldn’t give her what she wanted. That I found her ambition misdirected and wondered why she wanted to join a cause she knew nothing about in a world she knew nothing about. I was harsher than I could have been. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“Yes,” Harry said, and tilted his head back as Tom began to kiss down his throat. The hand in his hair was still keeping him from moving much. He sighed when Tom slid his hand up Harry’s chest. “We should get out of bed and go tell them something.”
“Why? I want to make love to you again.”
Harry sighed again, because part of him wanted that, too, and didn’t want the sharp looks he knew would be on Dorea’s and Celandine’s faces. But— “We have to get moving.”
“I can’t hold you here,” Tom said, and tugged on his hair as if to disprove the point. “I can only ask. Please stay here in the bed and let me make love to you again.” The hand on Harry’s best fell up and down as if with a sigh, and then he grabbed and tweaked Harry’s nipples.
Harry caught his breath and glanced at Tom’s face as best he could when he was upside-down. Tom was flushed with passion, his breath quickening as though he’d been running a race, and then he bent and kissed Harry again.
They have to already know something is different than they thought it was. And Jonquil won’t be any angrier about another hour’s delay than she already is.
His mouth full of warmth and sweetness, Harry gave in, and opened his legs for Tom.
Chapter 18: Jonquil's Deed
“It’s about time.”
Harry winced as he stepped into the kitchen, with Tom right behind him, and heard what Dorea had said. He glanced over his shoulder at Tom, but Tom didn’t seem to mind. He had a faint smile on his lips as he leaned past Harry and started to dish food for himself out of the enormous platters of eggs and bacon that were already there.
“Um,” Harry said. “I’m sorry that we spent so much time in the bedroom?” He glanced at the food again. It seemed odd that Dorea had breakfast ready to serve when it must have been at least four in the afternoon.
“Sit down,” Dorea said, nodding to the chairs on either side of the table. The six that usually stood there had been reduced to three. “We need to talk.”
Harry filled his own plate and sat down with a vague sense of dread. Tom sat down and then moved his chair close enough to Harry that he could casually drape an arm around his shoulders. Harry stiffened up, then shook his head. It was too late now to hide the evidence.
Tom’s eyes laughed at him for trying, anyway, and he drank most of his tea in one long gulp before he looked at Dorea. “I’m not giving him up,” he said.
“I don’t believe that I asked you to,” Dorea said, and sipped at her own tea for a moment, watching as Harry dug into his eggs. “But I do need to ask you do something for me. You see, Jonquil left us this note. I’m unsure of how early she actually left the house.” She held out a scrap of parchment.
Harry winced as he took it. It looked as though tears had blurred the letters. It took him a moment to actually understand it, because of that.
Tom had already understood it, but he drew in a harsh breath, which meant his reaction wasn’t any more enlightening. Harry struggled and made out the words.
Dear family, I know when I’m not wanted. I know that the man I would have chosen has chosen someone else, my own cousin. I can’t stay here and watch them be happy together. Maybe that makes me childish, but at least I know my own weakness. Tom. His name was underlined several times. I’m going to another place, the world that Tom won’t take me to.
“She went through the portal to my world,” Tom said flatly.
Harry started. That wouldn’t have occurred to him. He had thought she’d merely run away to London—not that that was great either, in a world where wizarding London was much bigger than in his own dimension and apparently had lots of dangers for a naïve eighteen-year-old. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Tom snapped his fingers in the air next to his own ear. “Now that I’m properly awake, I can hear the portal ringing. She wouldn’t have been able to get past it, but I’m still on this side. Nothing is preventing someone else from going through it as long as they originate from a world that’s not mine.”
Harry grimaced. That was why Albus had had to perform a ritual to come through. He wondered briefly if he would have to perform one to get back, and then pushed the thought away. “How do we retrieve her?”
“I don’t see any other way except for you to go through.”
“You would put my great-nephew at risk, and not yourself?” Dorea’s voice was as cold as bones in winter.
“If I go through, the portal immediately snaps shut,” Tom said. He looked pale and strained, as though he was dealing with some immense injury that would rip him open any second. “There has to be a way to brace it, to hold it open, but…” His eyes slid to Harry, and then away.
Harry swallowed. He hated that events were forcing his hand, but it didn’t make him feel as desperate as it would have a few days ago. He had chosen Tom, and that meant certain things just made sense. “I can do it.”
“I don’t want you to do it because of your cousin.”
“My cousin is only a child. It’s the reason you wouldn’t accept her as your companion in the first place. She doesn’t deserve to be trapped there. Or worse. Didn’t you say your world was in the middle of a war?”
“Not an open one as yet, but yes.” Tom was gazing only at him, although Dorea shifted in her chair in a way that meant she wanted answers. “You would do this? Knowing what it might make you?”
“What does he mean, Harry?”
“He means that I can sacrifice some of my magic to hold open the portal to his world.” Harry looked at his great-aunt, and saw the way her hand almost cracked her porcelain teacup as it tightened. “It’s what I did to keep the one that leads to my own world open.”
“Why would you—Harry.” Dorea sounded shocked. “I had no idea that you made yourself weaker than you were.”
“It really was the best solution,” Harry said, wondering why she looked as if he had broken her arm. “My magic before that was so chaotic and powerful that I couldn’t really control it. I killed people when I only meant to wound them and make them back off.”
“These would be people who were trying to kill you?” Tom sounded only mildly interested, but glancing at him, Harry could see the heat in his eyes. He tried not to grimace. Of course this was turning Tom on.
Well, Harry had been the one to choose him. He couldn’t complain about it now. “They were. But I still wanted to capture them and keep them for the Aurors. I couldn’t, because my magic would always move to defend me with lethal force even if that’s not what I wanted. I can control it a lot better now.”
The silence on the other side of the table made him turn to look at Dorea, who was staring at him in wonder. She said softly, “You must have made—such an impression when you walked in that world.”
“I did, but it was like causing earthquakes. It’s better for me to be the way I am now.”
“But you won’t be that way you are now if you give up more of your magic to hold the portal to Mr. Gaunt’s world open.”
“I know.” Harry smiled a little wistfully and held up his hands. Blue sparks danced over his fingers, and he watched them. Then he closed his hands into fists. The sparks vanished. “I’ll miss the magic. There are times that I’ve done things I shouldn’t be able to do because of it, and I’m grateful.” He could feel Tom’s heated gaze on his back, no doubt remembering some of those things. “But I’ll also be normal. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. A normal wizard, with a family.”
“I will grieve for what you lost,” Dorea whispered. “I did not know the price of what Jonquil did would be so high.”
“I’ve never had a cousin before—well, I’ve never had a cousin I liked before,” Harry admitted, thinking of Dudley. They had sort of reconciled just before the Order of the Phoenix took the Dursleys away, but then Harry had never seen him again, which made it hard to tell what their relationship would have been like if Dudley had stayed. “I didn’t treat Jonquil the best. This is a chance to make up for some of those mistakes.”
“I really don’t mind, Dorea,” Harry told her quietly. “This is the way that I want things to be, now that Jonquil has gone through the portal. I’ll get her back, don’t worry.”
Dorea and Tom exchanged glances. Harry wondered why, until Tom put a hand on his shoulder and said, “When he speaks in that tone, you know that everything’s going to be all right, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do.” Dorea narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think you’ve told me every detail of what you did to save your world, great-nephew.”
Harry shrugged. “I can’t see that it matters now.” He stood up, casting his mind back to the night that he’d stabilized the portal to his first world so it would never shut. “I’ll need a full night’s sleep. A good meal in the morning. A silver knife. I brought one with me, but I don’t know where it is right now.”
“I will find it.” Looking relieved to have something to do, Dorea turned and bustled out of the room.
Harry nodded to her, but he only had time for that before Tom took his shoulders and turned him around. His eyes were narrow as he scrutinized Harry’s face. “You really are going to do this, aren’t you? Are you willing to give up everything that matters to you so you can find your idiot cousin?”
“I’m not giving up everything that matters to me,” Harry pointed out. “I’ll have my family, my friends. And you, unless you decide that you won’t want to sleep with me when I’m less powerful.” To be honest, part of Harry was braced, expecting that. Except for the bonds of blood and long-term friendship, it seemed he mostly knew people who had turned on him.
Tom gave him a single, sharp shake, which made Harry’s teeth clip closed on his tongue. He wiped away the small trickle of blood and blinked incredulously at Tom, who said, “I know that you aren’t insane. And this was the solution I recommended in the first place.”
“Yes? Then why you are upset?”
“Because I wanted you to choose it of your own free will, because you wanted to be able to see me after I returned to my world. Not be forced to it because of your idiot cousin.”
Harry reached out and touched Tom’s hand, then healed his own tongue with a movement of his wand. “I’m not being forced to it. And Tom, people will always matter more to me than power. Yes, it’s nice to have magic that means I can defend you from Dumbledore and hold portals open long past the point where they should have closed. But it’s not the thing that I’m going to allow to define my life. I’m going to let the people I love do that.”
For a second, Tom’s eyes were as wide and luminous as the night sky. Then they clouded over, and he nodded shortly. “And you will consider visiting my world with me, then? Or letting me come back and visit you?”
“I just told you that I didn’t want to give you up.”
Tom closed his eyes, and Harry realized with a start that he was with someone who was even more used to people walking away than Harry had been. Harry clasped his hands and held them until Tom opened his eyes, then promised, “If I ever want to walk away from you, I will tell you, Tom. Not hint around the topic and pretend to be talking about something else.”
Tom’s face relaxed finally. “I suppose there’s something to be said for having a forthright Gryffindor lover.”
“And I think more of you than I ever realized I could,” Harry said, and let Tom kiss him right there in the kitchen, where anyone from the house could have walked in on them.
Tom stood well back as he watched Harry approach the glittering outline of the portal back to his world. Harry had warned him that, from what he knew of portals, Tom shouldn’t be too close, or he might be drawn through and the gate would snap shut.
Tom knew he would spend the rest of his life, if necessary, finding a way to get back to this dimension if that happened. But it would be convenient if he never had to.
Harry had his hands held out in front of him, and Tom saw a soft sheen forming between them. It had the texture of starlight instead of firelight, which Tom had thought it would look like, for some reason. It shimmered and blazed, and it acquired swimming gold and silver colors, so beautiful Tom wanted to touch it.
He clenched his hands and kept himself still.
Harry took a step towards the portal. His voice began to build into a chant, but Tom couldn’t understand the language he was using. It didn’t seem to be Latin or English. Instead, it was as if the magic around him had taken form as words. The sound swayed back and forth, and Tom let out a sudden breath as he watched it snap into being around Harry as swirls of white mist.
At the same time, the outline of his body brightened. Harry still had a distinct sheet of radiance pinioned between his spread fingers, but the circling maelstrom around the rest of him increased and grew and grew, projecting the shape of a human being in silver and gold high into the sky.
Tom stared. He had never realized that Harry had this much magic; it wasn’t like he had seen it manifested like this the other times that Harry had used it against him, or for him. It made him wonder what Harry had been like before he sacrificed part of his magic to brace the other portal open.
Magnificent. Overwhelming. Huge.
Tom nodded slowly. Harry valued connections to other people. He would have despaired of achieving that when he had such strong magic, except where other people already knew him and valued him without having that incentive to do so. He would have been glad to give it up.
And part of him would be glad to give half of what he had up, although not as glad, Tom thought.
He watched as the glowing outline turned and stepped away from Harry, shrinking back to the size of a human figure as it faced him. Harry opened his eyes and smiled a little. He held out the shining weave between his fingers to the kneeling, hollow figure of light.
The figure reached out to take it. At the same moment, sparks left Harry’s body and streamed to the kneeling one, making it seem as if Harry stood in the midst of an exploding comet.
Tom clutched the silver knife that Harry had told him to take. He would have to hand it over in a minute, and he hoped he would know when to do so. Harry had told him that it would be “unmistakable,” whatever that meant.
Then Harry reached out a hand and turned his attention from the kneeling figure to Tom, and Tom knew. He strode forwards, holding out the silver knife. Harry nodded, grabbed the knife, and made a tiny slit across his forehead. Tom narrowed his eyes. He had assumed Harry would cut his hand or his wrist, as was usual in a ritual like this.
Then again, that was where the scar had been that had once hidden Voldemort’s Horcrux. So it might make it a good symbolic place after all.
Harry tossed his head backwards, to make sure that the blood wouldn’t drip into his eyes, and clapped the hand that didn’t hold his knife over the scar. It came away with the blood arranged into a perfect five-pointed star. Tom stopped breathing for a second. The air was so heavy with hovering magic that he didn’t have much of a choice.
That, of course, was when someone tried to stab him in the back.
Instinct, more than knowledge, sent Tom spinning aside as a Stunner sped past him. It struck feet away from Harry, disappearing into a sharp sparkle. The magic around him was great enough to eat any smaller incantation.
Dumbledore stood there, a hooded figure next to him. Tom readied his wand.
Dumbledore sighed a little. “His cousin has told me all about what kind of person Harry Potter really is,” he said softly. “I was keeping away out of respect for him, but I see now that I should never have allowed myself to be fooled. Someone who keeps company with a terrorist is a terrorist, by definition.”
Tom stared at the hooded figure. Jonquil. She didn’t go through the portal after all. Which means that Harry is giving up his magic and he’ll go search for her for no reason, and—
Well, Tom could kill her first. He moved to the side, the Killing Curse already busy on his tongue, but Dumbledore stopped him with a curving shield that would have wrapped around Tom to keep him there if he hadn’t darted away. The shields snapped shut on emptiness and then vanished.
“You really think that you can duel me, Mr. Gaunt?” Dumbledore asked mildly. “I was old and powerful when you were young.”
Tom said nothing. What he knew was that he had to defend Harry, and he wasn’t about to back away. He changed the spell waiting in his mind and on his wand from the Killing Curse to Parseltongue magic. It was the only thing he knew that Dumbledore might not be able to counter.
“And now,” Dumbledore said, as the air all around them filled with the light of falling stars and the portal became limned in silver, “we will begin.”
Tom hurled himself into the fight.
Chapter 19: A Shining World
While this is the end of the story, it is not the end of the series. I will be posting a sequel to this story next week, probably to be called Lightning and War.
Harry was aware of the distant battle that sounded behind him, but he couldn’t stop the transfer of magic now. The shining figure that knelt in front of him, which would unite with the portal to Tom’s world, was taking more and more of it.
And the more flowed away, the lighter Harry felt. The freer.
There are some things where I can’t help being different from other people, but if I get to choose? Then yeah, I choose to be normal.
He could almost see features wavering into existence on the being’s face now. A nose and mouth like Harry’s, the eyes a brilliant blue like Ron’s. It was similar to the figure that had formed when Harry gave up part of his magic to stabilize the portal back to his first world, but then the mouth and nose had been Hermione’s, and the eyes had been Harry’s own.
The figure reached out with a golden hand, rounded at the tips as if it was wearing mittens, and Harry smiled and flicked his fingers. More magic, this time shaped as if it was a row of shark teeth, sped across the air between them.
Take it. I never wanted it. I would have given it all for a life with my parents, a life without Voldemort.
Let him have just enough to still cast some spells and keep up with Tom, and he would—
Something crashed into him, knocking him away from the still-forming figure. Harry got his hands beneath him in seconds and stopped the roll. He came up snarling, honestly frightened by the sounds that were ripping from his throat. The figure in front of him wavered and vanished, and the magic twirled up, filling the sky like the Northern Lights. Some of it continued to settle around the portal, though.
Harry had no idea what would happen if the transfer of magic was interrupted. The portal to Tom’s world might snap shut. It might gap open wider and spill dangerous things out of a rip into the dimensions between the worlds. It might suck Tom back into it.
Of all of those, Harry knew which outcome he would hate most.
He reached his feet and saw, in a quick glance, that Tom and Dumbledore were dueling. The air between them was filled with crackling fire and light and snakes made out of both. Tom seemed to be holding his own for the moment, which was the only reason Harry felt free to turn to face the hooded figure in front of him.
It chuckled. “I believe that your young man thinks I’m your cousin, based on the way he was glaring at me.” Hands rose and drew the hood back, and eyes filled with hate glared at Harry.
Harry clenched his hands. “I could have told him that Jonquil would never do anything like this to me. But some of my other cousins might have, Calliope.”
His cousin shook her head, her eyes fastened on him. “You have no idea how much I hate you,” she said softly. “And then Albus came and told me more about you. How you’re going to go to his world with this Gaunt person and start another war. Or maybe you’re trying to stop Albus.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter that much to me. What matters to me is that you stand here and my son does not.”
“I’m not responsible for his death,” Harry snarled. He was speaking more harshly than he meant to, but all his nerves were jangling. She shouldn’t have interrupted the transfer of magic to the portal. The aura that clung to it right now shimmered and spat at him. He wasn’t sure when it would break.
“But you come here and you bear his name, and you’re accepted by the family in a way that I’ve never been. Not since he died.”
Harry didn’t have time to debate the nuances of her grief with her. Tom was fighting Dumbledore. He might be dying, and Harry was standing here and chatting with his hateful cousin. He launched a blow at her, a flick of his magic, that took her off her feet and knocked her out, and then turned and ran towards the duel.
Dumbledore had cast a spell that arched like a silver lattice over Tom, pressing him further and further down on his knees. Harry lashed out and watched as his magic tore open the back of Dumbledore’s robe, stinging like a whip against his spine.
I shouldn’t still have that much magic left. The transfer should have—
But the thought got lost as the silver lattice dissolved and Dumbledore spun around. His face creased in shock for a second, and then he bowed his head.
“You are fully allied with Mr. Gaunt, then,” he whispered. “I hoped it was otherwise. I hoped I might persuade you of what a mistake this is.”
“You can do that if you step back and leave him alone,” Harry said grimly. He could hear the steady crackle of the magic from the portal, and he could feel the curving reel of it around his head. He would probably have to stop the duel soon to go back to the ritual. He honestly didn’t know what having it interrupted would do. As far as he knew, this had only been done once before in history, when he’d stabilized the portal back to his own first world.
“You have no idea of the havoc he would cause. I must stop him.”
“What did you do with Jonquil?”
Dumbledore blinked. “Calliope mentioned that she has a cousin by that name. What about her?”
Harry nodded shortly. So it seemed unlikely that Jonquil had ever spoken to Dumbledore or Calliope about her intentions. Calliope spent days alone at a time with her husband, so she might not have heard about the note from Dorea, either.
Which meant Jonquil was probably beyond the portal. And that made it more necessary than ever to stabilize it.
“I’m ready to fight beside you, Harry.”
Tom stepped up beside him. Dumbledore’s eyes fixed on him and hardened. He hates him more than he can ever hate me. Maybe just because I’m not from his world in the beginning, or no counterpart of mine lives there.
“You do not understand the man you are trying to save,” Dumbledore said. “You do not understand what you are doing with your own magic if you make this portal permanent. Mr. Potter, I am only trying to save your life, as well.”
“I made my choices.” Harry gritted his teeth as he felt a powerful tug from inside his soul. His magic was trying to get away from him and rejoin the sheets of it streaming towards the portal. “Come on, then, Albus.”
They had to win the duel quickly. Harry raised his hands and let the blue flames that he’d summoned yesterday glow around them. At his side, Tom laughed and raised his wand.
Even with two of them, it wasn’t easy.
Then again, Tom had never thought it would be. Albus had earned his position as Minister partially because of his popularity, but also because of his power. And he poured that power over them, curses that would have wrenched their bones apart if they landed, and others that would have pounded their muscles to molecules, and illusions that were aimed to turn them against each other and ensnare their senses with hatred and fear.
But Harry was there, and he cleaved through the spells like a swung axe. And Tom was there, and willing to use the Dark Arts and the snake magic that Harry didn’t know or perhaps didn’t want to use.
They drove Albus back, the darkness full of booming blue light and deflected magic. Albus tried to aim his wand between them once and blow up the ground, but Harry had lifted a shield before he finished the incantation, and Tom aimed a curse that didn’t hamstring Albus but came close.
There was so much shock in Albus’s face that Tom wanted to laugh as they fought. Had Albus expected them to lie down and roll over and let him do whatever he wanted? They were together. They were the Light and Dark united the way that Albus had done, but only secretly, and within himself, and all the while convincing himself that it wasn’t really Dark if it was done for the greater good.
The duel ended as it must done, with Albus down, Stunned, and bleeding. Harry traced his wand in a circle, his face set and grim.
“Cavea somnii,” he murmured.
` The air around Albus solidified and shimmered, and then became a curved-looking blue box. Tom lowered his wand and turned to stare at Harry. He thought he knew what the Latin meant—“dream cage”—but he didn’t know the effect of the spell.
“Well?” he asked, when the cage fully formed and nothing pounded on the inside of it trying to get out.
Harry sighed and brushed back his hair from his forehead. Sweat ran like blood past the scar that was the mark of the other Tom’s possession. Tom found himself wishing that he could erase it. “It’ll keep him asleep for at least a month. It’s like a spell version of the Draught of Living Death. It—”
And then he screamed, and crumpled over, and Tom saw the link writhing like a tapeworm between him and the portal. He grabbed Harry around the waist and dragged him towards the gate. He did pause once on the way to stare at the woman lying on the grass.
“No. My cousin Calliope, who was bitter about losing a son with the same name as me—”
Harry’s voice trailed off into another scream. Tom clenched his teeth. Knowing Harry’s past, he could only imagine the depth of the pain that it would take to make him scream that way. He kept dragging Harry, not wanting to use a Levitation Charm so near so much magic of unknown potential. He dropped Harry roughly in front of the portal and swallowed an apology, his eyes fixed on Harry as he raised his wand in a shaking hand.
“I need to complete the transfer,” Harry croaked. “Tom, get out of the way.”
“There must be some way I can help—something I can do—”
Harry shook his head, and more sweat made its way down his forehead. “I’ve already left this too long. The portal might try to suck you through and snap shut if you’re too close. Move!”
Tom stumbled back several steps before he thought about it. Harry had the commanding voice down pat, when he wanted to use it. Tom had the feeling that that wasn’t very often.
Harry ground his hands in the dirt and managed to stand. He was facing the portal head-on, and his mouth was open like an angry, roaring lion’s. His hair billowed around him, too, like a lion’s mane, as he lifted his hands.
The words that came out of his mouth weren’t in English, or Parseltongue, or Latin. The most Tom could say for them that was that they weren’t the wordless screams of before. He swallowed his anxiety and went to work raising wards behind them. No one else was going to interrupt Harry.
As much as he wished this transfer didn’t have to happen.
Harry could feel the anxious coiling in his stomach, the rising and rushing of his magic. This time, he had to do it right, he thought, or it was entirely possible that he would have nothing left from trying to contain the burning by the time he was done.
But the magic seemed just as pleased to go where Harry was directing it to go. In seconds, the shining figure was kneeling in front of him again. Harry reached out and clasped hands with it this time. Less chance that things would fuck up when he was holding the “person” he was supposed to transfer the magic to.
Immediately the glowing being acquired features again, but this time, they were Tom’s. Harry smiled and let it happen. The important thing was to feed it the magic, and to will what he wanted to happen into existence.
Looking at Tom’s face even made it easier to will it to happen, now that Harry thought about it. I want you to stay open. I want you to stabilize, so that I can be with Tom for always.
The air seemed to ring in response, as if someone had struck a bronze gong—the same shimmering tone Harry had heard once before. The curling streamers in the air dashed down and wreathed themselves into being around the gate, and then sank into it. Harry watched roots delve into the earth. He couldn’t restrain a gasp of relief. Yes, he remembered the same thing happening when he made the portal to his first world permanent.
The magic was doing what it was supposed to do.
Harry crossed his arms as even more power welled up from inside his chest and painted the sky around him the colors of deep space, darkness pockmarked with silver and blue and golden flecks. He flicked his fingers, and the lights expanded, taking over the darkness. Harry stared into them and fed them the last of his power that he had to give.
For a moment, it felt as if sticky strings were clinging to his chest, pulling all of his magic out so that he would become a Squib. Harry tossed his head back and imposed his will—the thing that had made it possible for him to imagine stabilizing the portal in the first place, the thing that let him resist the Imperius Curse.
No. This is mine. You cannot have it.
A loud whine sounded in his ears, the forces that twisted through the time and space between dimensions demanding more from him. Harry shook his head, and slammed his will down.
I desired to be normal. I will be normal.
The titanic forces reared up against him, and Harry dismissed them.
The tide of desire hit him, desire thick with something simpler than words, the begging and pulling—
The desires slid away, accompanied by frustrated screams, and the fires around the edges of the portal seethed outwards once, a furious reflection of the magic he had fed them. Harry raised his eyebrows and continued standing upright. The light died, and then what was left was a simple doorway in the air, opening into darkness.
Or as simple as a doorway in the air can be, Harry thought, and then slumped to his knees and bowed his head.
Tom stared in awe. He knew now why no one else had discovered this method of holding a portal open. It took enormous magic, yes, but it took a stronger force of will not to be pulled apart by the giving of that magic.
Tom did not know himself if he could have resisted it, even though it might have been possible to harvest the necessary magic from a blood sacrifice. He moved up beside Harry, his hand running down his shoulder.
Harry turned his head with a weary sigh and leaned his cheek against Tom’s knuckles. Tom controlled the impulse to curl up around him and shield him from any possible repercussions.
“The portal is going to stay open now,” Harry said, and yawned. “It’ll still be there when we come back from finding Jonquil.”
Tom stiffened at the reminder that he and Harry were not going to his world for the first time together because Harry wanted to help him fight his war, or even to visit. No, they had to go and find his stubborn cousin.
“I thought she was the one standing beside Dumbledore,” he admitted with a sigh, looking over at the unconscious woman who was apparently Calliope, a fact he still couldn’t believe.
Harry shook his head. “Jonquil would have showed her face from the beginning and wouldn’t have hurt me in the first place,” he said simply. “Calliope had enough sense to be ashamed of herself. Just not enough sense to stop.” He sighed. “Come on, Tom. We need to go home and rest. I thought we might be able to go through right away, but we’re both too tired from the duel. And we have to tell Dorea and the others about Calliope, and decide what to do about Dumbledore.”
Tom nodded in silence. When Harry began to struggle back to his feet, Tom pulled him up. Harry leaned against him, and sighed.
“Are you—you’re not a Squib,” Tom said.
Harry laughed and shook his head. “No. I think I’m probably back to a normal level now. I can definitely still do magic. Probably not extremely powerful magic and wandless curses anymore.” He smiled at Tom, his expression radiant. “I have what I wanted.”
That quieted Tom’s guilt about the way that Harry had had to give up his magic, about the way that he would end up visiting Tom’s world. He tucked his hand under Harry’s elbow, and together they walked back towards Godric’s Hollow. Tom Levitated Calliope behind him.
Harry glanced over his shoulder more than once. Tom tilted his head. “I’m sorry that I did destroy your peace when I came here.”
Harry drew in a shivering breath. “No. I think—it’s probably time to face up to the fact that I was constructing this dream of the perfect family, much more than I ever realized. Calliope hated me based on something that happened long before either of us came here. Jonquil was restless and yearning to leave long before either of us came here. She was never happy at Hogwarts, either, Dorea told me. This was a necessary wake-up call.”
Tom nodded. And then, unfortunate circumstances and all, he had to speak. He couldn’t keep silent any longer. “Tomorrow we go through the portal to my world after all.”
Harry gave him a smile as warm as a lion’s fur. “Tomorrow.”
As I said above, this is not the end of the whole story. The sequel will begin next week.