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“Oh, my god,” Voldemort said, poking at the bundle of squalling baby with his wand, “It’s so cute when it cries.”

“Get your hands off him!” Ron shouted, pulling at the Death Eaters physically holding him back – the last few spells seemed to just melt off of his near tangible protective fury. Hermione, on the other hand, was biding her time, waiting for a moment of weakness or inattention to strike.

“My Lord?” Death Eater 2 asked uncertainly, “Didn’t you want him dead?”

“Is it that he’s a baby now?” Death Eater 1 added, even less certainly, “Since… You know, we wouldn’t have thought you had a problem with that… er, my Lord.”

“I’ll go drown him,” Death Eater 3 with the greasy hair – what was his name, again? - offered hastily, “Far away from here where no one can see or confirm that he’s dead.”

“Well, I’m fairly certain it’s more dangerous in this form. We can’t do anything to it yet, but- that’s neither here nor there. No, Death Eaters 1, 2, and Severus,” Voldemort waved them off, having remembered Death Eater 3’s name while still staring at the crying baby and prodding it occasionally to keep the cries coming, “For the first time in my life… I’m finding something cute. …No one will take this from me.” Finally stooping down and awkwardly picking up the crying child (the babe cried harder when Voldemort’s face came into range of its newborn vision), Voldemort swaddled it in the discarded robes, repeating, “No one.”

.

“Take it, take it, take it,” Voldemort chanted not an hour later, pushing the infant into Severus’s arms, “Feed it, drown it – I don’t know what it wants anymore! Its face shouldn’t be that color!”

“My Lord, how could you miss that he requires a diaper change?” Severus intoned, generous nose wrinkling, before his eyes darted to Voldemort’s distinct lack of such a feature with a quiet, “Ah.”

Oblivious to the disrespect, Voldemort gestured for him to take action, “Just don’t teach it anything dangerous to me while you do it.”

“He’s a baby, my Lord,” Severus replied, holding the child almost at arm’s-length as he walked across the room in search of fabric to use as a diaper. Potter could barely learn what I had to teach him before, he thought. Voldemort, however, stared at him without comprehension for a moment before realization dawned.

“Don’t underestimate babies,” he waggled a skeletal finger, “They’re far more important to the world’s magic than adults.”

“They… contribute to the world’s magic?”

“What?” Voldemort and Severus shared a mutually disbelieving stare-down before Voldemort shook himself and explained, “No, don’t be ridiculous. Magic just likes them better. I would have said they’re more important for the world’s magic if I had meant that.” Diaper change done and grossness taken care of, Voldemort made grabby hands for the currently drowsy baby Harry, receiving him from a reluctant Severus. Odd, Voldemort had thought he hated children and Potter, especially. Who knew babies were his weakness? Voldemort made a mental note; he was more than willing to exploit this later.

“That’s what makes babies so dangerous, and children a bit risky,” Voldemort picked up his previous train of thought, before cooing at Harry, who was silently weeping at this point, tears rolling down fat, but no longer bright red, cheeks, “Who’s a dangerous little bastard at this age? You! You are!” All business again, the self-proclaimed Dark Lord explained, “I didn’t take that into account last time and tried to kill him before he even reached the terrible two’s. And right after killing his mother!” Severus twitched again. “What a rookie error. That prophecy you heard had me all crazy. Crazy,” he repeated in a sing-song voice to crying baby Harry, before concluding, “So, no more killing babies for any of us, alright? I should’ve made it a rule as soon as I returned, but I had some other things on my mind.” Following this announcement, he smiled contentedly at Harry’s tears and swept from the room.

.

Nearly a year passed, with Voldemort having to pry baby Harry from Severus’ increasingly white-knuckled hands in increasingly odd places.

“You almost crossed the wards, this time!” He scolded, holding Harry to his chest as the child began to cry again, “Be more mindful.”

Severus swept a stiff bow, a mere foot from the edge of the apparition-blocking wards and freedom, “Of course, my Lord. I will strive to do so.”

“Honestly,” Voldemort sighed, bouncing Harry a little, “If it didn’t produce my favorite kind of tears when I take it away from you, I wouldn’t let you have it anymore.”

“My Lord?” Death Eater 2 prompted elaboration of a plot point.

“Emotional duress,” Voldemort cooed, poking Harry’s little nose, “I have to get Severus to take care of all the gross stuff and I keep it fed so it doesn’t go blotchy. So long as it’s well taken care of and miserable, it just turns on tears like a faucet. No blotchiness, but all despair.”

“Haychu,” baby Harry said, clearly in the sudden silence, as tears continued to stream down his cheeks, “Haychu Vol.” Death Eaters 1, 2, and Severus sucked in a breath, unable to exhale as their Lord stared down at the defenseless baby in his talons.

“Its first words!” Voldemort exclaimed, finally, squishing Harry closer, “Aw, do you hate me, baby? So adorable; I just want to squish you until you pop.” Scarily, Voldemort seemed more ecstatic than insulted, “That must have been really difficult for your little baby face! You know what you should say next?” Wary baby Harry warily eyed Voldemort with wary wariness, which was taken as a sign to continue, “Die! Just imagine your little baby face, your cherub-i-ness, telling people to die!” For a moment, Voldemort stopped, taking a few deep breaths, “Had to suppress a squeal. Bad for my image.”

“Haychu,” Harry repeated, leaning exhaustedly on Voldemort’s chest.

Swaying back and forth as he carded a hand through the toddler’s hair, Voldemort hummed, “Hate you too, baby.”

.

“Nope,” Voldemort chuckled a few years later, holding his wand above his head and out of a frustrated Harry’s theft attempt, “Cry, now.”

“I’m old enough not to, if I don’t want,” Four year old Harry retorted, and Voldemort’s face collapsed into disappointment even as Harry crossed his arms over his chest in resignation at the failure, as per usual, “And old enough to be killed, if you’d just get it out of the way.”

“Be patient,” Voldemort replied, all traces of disappointment gone under a smile as he patted Harry’s head and passed by him into his office, Harry trailing behind due to the proximity leashing charm Voldemort had applied as soon as Harry had been able to crawl. The Dark Lord had been in an almost perpetual good mood since Harry’s defeat. With the fall of the Light’s last hope, magical Britain and then the whole of the British islands had not been long to follow. The islands were completely isolated now (#Brexit), wiped from the muggle world’s memory, and under Voldemort’s rule.

Well, sort of.

Voldemort was more of a war leader than a peace leader, and actually, he’d gotten bored once he won, so he’d handed over the role of Minister to a lackey that was smart enough to lead but not smart enough to rebel with a few key guidelines to follow.

Oh, he still held court with those brave enough to bring an important issue before him, but for the most part, he signed a few papers and killed a few dissidents while he researched avenues to invulnerability in order to flesh out the weak spots of immortality via Horcrux, with the resources of a nation behind him.

And he raised Harry, of course. He really couldn’t have his Death Eaters underfoot while he was working on something to better himself, or which could reveal his weaknesses, but he knew Harry knew about the Horcruxes and that anything else he could peek at would fly completely over his little, messy head, regardless of age. He hadn’t made it through his seventh year at Hogwarts, for gods’ sakes, and his OWL results were nothing special.

The boy was still holding onto his baby fat, and Voldemort never found it cuter than when the boy would break down and cry at night, to the point of staking out that bedroom until Harry thought he’d left and began to weep.

It was happening less and less often, as Harry seemed to be slowly regaining control of his own emotions as his brain and body grew, but Voldemort liked to drop increasingly falsified tidbits about the welfare (or lack thereof) of his friends right before bed to up the chances of waterworks. And, man, did it work.

Currently, however, Harry was leaning on Voldemort’s desk as the Dark Lord signed a stack of civil applications for various permits and licenses on automatic. Not really reading them due to: one, his complete and total apathy as to whether or not someone blew themselves up doing something they weren’t qualified to do simply because they had a permit they didn’t earn, and two, because his minions had already read through for that sort of thing – and they did seem to care. At least, if the pity party after Rookwood actually did blow himself up was any indication.

“Longbottom?” Harry interjected, snatching the application Voldemort had just pressed quill to from his hands, “Neville Longbottom? This is an application for a marriage license to Luna Lovegood!” He whirled on Voldemort, “You told me they were dead!”

“I lied,” Voldemort admitted easily, hoping some angry tears would break Harry’s newfound control, “Obviously.”

“You,” Harry gritted out, pointing at Voldemort with his pudgy finger and at a loss for words, deflating visibly with each second of silence that passed. “They’re alive? And not prisoners?”

“They surrendered peacefully once the Hogwarts staff were cut down,” Voldemort elaborated, and Harry took a deep breath.

Were those… tears? Harry already knew Hogwarts’ previous staff – bar Severus – were all dead. What had prompted this?

Little hands clutched the application shakily, tear stains rapidly growing on the parchment. “They’re alive,” Harry whispered, “They might be happy.” And the tears increased under Voldemort’s disbelieving gaze.

Was it… was it possible?

Could this be cuter than Harry crying from despair?

Oh, god, it was.

As the tears tapered off to a natural end, Voldemort revealed, quickly, “The Weasleys aren’t working in the goblins’ mines or as love slaves to the giants. They’re mostly on the lam, probably in Canada, and we’re not going to spare the manpower to hunt them down.”

“Really?” Harry asked, and Voldemort nodded spastically, watching in fascination as Harry broke down yet again.

The Dark Lord tipped his head to lean into his hand, as the boy’s tears ran over his smile, green eyes shining, pudgy cheeks thankfully not-blotchy.

Score.

.

“Okay, how about a bedtime story?” Voldemort suggested cheerily after his customary lurking by the door failed to reveal either: a) Harry being adorably weepy or b) Harry being cutely asleep.

Coming to the correct conclusion, tiny Harry crossed his tiny arms over his tiny chest (sometimes Voldemort couldn’t get over it), “How long have you been there?”

“A period of time,” Voldemort waved vaguely before sitting on the bed beside Harry, “But right now is about getting you to sleep.”

“Oh really?”

“You know what always puts me to sleep,” the Dark Lord chuckled fondly to himself, “Case three hundred sixty two in my files. Oh, that was a waste of time and merewif blood. And merewifs!”

“Nightmares,” Harry intoned before turning hastily over and covering his ears, voice inching up in volume, “All you’ll do is give me nightmares.”

“Oh, come now, Harry. Education is important. They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste!” This was just classic father-son drama, wasn’t it? Perhaps he should let the boy have this one. ...But on the other hand, what could a guardian give their ward that was more valuable than wisdom? Voldemort indulgently ran a soothing hand over the child’s back, “I’ll give you the cliffnotes version.”

.

“You know, letting me go or killing one of us would be a great way to make me break down into tears of joy,” Too-perceptive eleven-year-old Harry muttered under his breath, sitting at Voldemort’s left overseeing the Liberation Day Parade the Dark Lord’s bureaucrats had instituted to help keep morale up or something. Whatever it was, Voldemort didn’t really care, as he’d been less and less interested in the workings of his government so long as his research was coming along. And it was coming along.

“If I did either of those, it would be an end to ever seeing you cry again,” Voldemort replied absently, patting Harry’s mussed hair while he tried to finish a particularly tricky Arithmantic equation in his head for that bit about the conch shell… “Unless I pretended to let you go and then secretly reintegrated myself into your life in disguise. Or merely recaptured you.”

Being eyed like a madman no longer snapped Voldemort out of his concentration whenever Harry leveled that particular look at him, and the Dark Lord could finish his math in peace.

That wouldn’t quite work, would it? It would require far too many sacrifices to be practical. Perhaps if he sank Japan and leveled India at the exact same time, the power drain might be offset enough not to kill him on the spot, but he couldn’t see a good way to create the sort of widespread, thorough destruction he’d need without personally killing each needed person in a who-knows-how-many-times looped time bubble. Another hypothesis crushed under the weight of reality.

And the risk that perhaps it wouldn’t kill him on the spot might have dropped that idea down the list all on its own.

Harry appeared to have recovered, as he was speaking again, winding down from a long rant to which Voldemort had not paid the slightest attention, “…and eventually, you’re just going to completely reform the Ministry without even realizing it, if you keep this up.”

“Unimportant as long as my research gets funding and your crying stays cute.”

That look, again, Harry?

.

Harry held the pillow an inch over Voldemort’s face.

Savoring the moment.

Not hesitating.

Just locking this into his memory forever.

He was going to kill Voldemort.

Kill the Dark Lord.

Or at least the body he was currently in.

He hadn’t managed to push him down the stairs yet, and Voldemort seemed to happily ingest various toxic potion ingredients without flinching, but this time, the bastard would die.

Harry held the pillow an inch over Voldemort’s face.

Then he pressed it to his own face and screamed.

A long-fingered hand pulled the pillow away from him and shoved it into the pile already accumulated on the bed from past attempts. “I’ll get you a new one,” Voldemort yawned, sitting upright, “that doesn’t remind you of murder.”

“I hate you so much,” Harry gritted out, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes.

For this comment, he got a blank stare before Voldemort patted his cheek, “Hate you, too.”

Hands fisted at his sides, Harry kept his eyes down, locked on the bedspread as Voldemort’s hand slid away and there was light pressure on the top of his head that definitely wasn’t a kiss.

“If you succeeded, the reckoning would get you, anyway,” Voldemort murmured drowsily, rolling over and going back to sleep.

.

It was taking more extreme actions to shock Harry into happy tears as he grew up. Of course, it wasn’t as hard as it probably should be, since Voldemort had been lacing his food with sensitivity potions from the moment he was old enough not to die from them.

He didn’t even make Severus brew them anymore as a reward for his constant willingness to take Harry on walks. Sure, Voldemort often had to retrieve them when Severus became a bit too enthusiastic with keeping Harry sane enough to respond to outside stimulus (they’d made it halfway to Canada on the most memorable escape attempt- uh, outing), but that was just a sign of his utter devotion to his lord’s commands…

Okay, actually Voldemort was just a little sick of Severus muttering loudly in his head about how the sensitivity potions could potentially be seen as child abuse and thus had resorted to brewing them himself. Being a natural Legilimens meant if someone thought something hard enough at him, he typically picked it up. Since his version of Occlumency was actually just really aggressive Legilimency right back at his attacker, this happened more often than one would expect.

Especially with Harry.

It hadn’t been much of an issue when he was younger because he’d been occupied with his brain being an infant’s, then a toddler’s, then a child’s, etc. but now Harry was a teenager . Yes, he had reached a vaunted 13 years of age somehow under Voldemort’s oddly tender care. Or so Voldemort assumed. He hadn’t really been doing birthdays.

The boy was a little taller than he had been the first time around, and wider besides. An actual healthy weight. If there was one thing Harry would credit Voldemort for, it was that he fed him more than the Dursleys had. In fact, since Voldemort had discovered Harry’s next level of cuteness corresponded with joy, he’d become almost doting. There was a few things, however, on which he had thus far refused to bend, and Harry was taking strong advantage of both the pre-existing natural Legilimency and the direct link into Voldemort’s easily distracted mind to ruin any chance of the Dark Lord finishing this analysis any time soon if he didn’t give into the most important demand.

Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys or death, Weasleys, Weasleys, Weasleys WeasleysWeasleysWeasleysWEASLEYSWEASLEYS-

“FINE!” Voldemort exclaimed, tossing the scalpel down beside flame red feathers, though neither Harry nor he could hear the shout. Spelling the phoenix into an enclosure that would block its unending screams, he removed the enchanted ear mufflers from himself and then Harry, leaning down to repeat in a hiss directly into the teen’s face, “ Fine .”

The Dark Lord stomped from the room calling for Severus, who had moved into Voldemort’s laboratory complex sometime around the 800th escape attempt for ease of access.

Honestly, Harry had no idea why he hadn’t been put under Voldemort’s wand yet. At this point, he figured the Dark Lord’s sense of time was screwed up enough, and his isolation from humanity strong enough that he might still be under the impression Harry was within the realm of infancy and thus, “favored by magic,” according to a lecture Harry had overheard when he was still struggling for clarity of thought as a small child and had pissed off some passing Death Eater enough Voldemort had had to step in.

Or maybe, at this point, Voldemort was just used to not cursing Harry when Harry drove him mad.

Had the Dark Lord accidentally… trained himself?

“Intentionally, I assure you,” Voldemort broke into Harry’s private thoughts, causing the boy to blanch. The Dark Lord, who was surprisingly unruffled for having stormed out only minutes ago, pinched his cheeks just this side of painfully and made a face, “You’re not cute when you’re brooding. Stop it.” He waved a spidery hand in dismissal as he turned away to rifle through a thin drawer and pull out a backpack far too large for the space it’d been in. It was deposited onto Harry and the boy was pushed from the room with instructions to pack clothing and “Toys or whatever, and ask Severus for help if you need it because I am going to finish up before we go.”

Harry caught a snippet of that horrible, bone-grinding scream again just before he shut the door behind him, and the tail-end of a stray Voldemort thought: Might as well make an expedition of it.

.

The Weasleys, wisely, had fled for their lives upon hearing the current “benefactor” of magical Britain was visiting Canada. The odd rumor that the trip was some sort of scientific expedition had to be a smokescreen, since not days after they’d abandoned their home again, the wards left behind had been torn to pieces and the place vanished from the map. They could only assume the Dark Lord had destroyed everything they’d left behind.

Tears were shed. Hearts were heavy.

.

“Good?” Voldemort asked, gesturing at the property they could no longer see from the outside, “Enough to make you tear up with joy?”

“We caused them to abandon their home; it’s just decent to make sure nothing gets stolen while they’re gone,” Harry complained, and Voldemort heaved an exaggerated sigh, before bouncing back hard.

“Well, we’re going to catch us some North American immortal creatures while we’re here,” the Dark Lord said chipperly as he held out a hand to Harry, “Stick close or you’ll get your face mauled off!” After all, Severus was off on some mysterious business that he’d assured Voldemort had nothing to do with the Weasleys. Voldemort couldn’t trust Harry to stay safe on his own with Severus gone to… Wherever he’d gone. Probably some secret lover. Well, after all these years of faithful service, Severus deserved a break or two.

With rolled eyes, Harry took his hand with the ease of practice, “Whatever.”

It was with a spring in his step that Voldemort dragged Harry off into the wilderness to wreak havoc on the local magical ecosystem until he was satisfied.

.

“They are very good at escaping,” Severus reported his failure to capture the fleeing Weasleys monotonously, as only a man who accepted responsibility for his failure and faced the consequences with full faith in his leader could, “but perhaps they are in Washington of the United States, now. Might I inquire again as to why we are chasing these blood traitors?”

“I’ve heard there are sparkly immortals there,” Voldemort mused, ignoring the question entirely before shrugging with a blinding (and terrifying) smile, “Couldn’t hurt!”

“Why would you focus on the sparkly part?” Harry asked, looking discomfited, “I don’t think I’ve even heard you say sparkle or anysuch derivation before.”

Voldemort edged into Harry’s personal space, “…Sparkle.”

“No,” Harry whined, leaning away and pushing ineffectually at the laughing Dark Lord’s shoulder.

A happy sigh. “Why is everything just going my way lately?” Voldemort wondered rhetorically as his chuckles died down, wiping at his eyes and smiling.

“I could ask the same thing,” Harry grumbled and crossed his arms, prompting Voldemort to exploit a new technique he’d discovered when they’d been crowded together through Wizarding Canada’s customs. That experience had lasted until they’d realized Voldemort was not a tasteless prankster with a good grasp of glamourie but the actual Dark Lord. He’d been ushered into the PM’s office to receive a formal apology and there was groveling and sobbing and gritted teeth and, well… bureaucracy happened up to the point Voldemort had pseudo-calmly torn through their apparition wards in a fit of boredom and dropped the three of them in a random stretch of tundra.

In any case, since they’d all been practically shoved through a funnel in the crowd of magical emigrants from mainland Europe, Voldemort had noted the reactions of his companions to various nudges and shoves and…

Well, Harry was ticklish all along his sides.

Once Harry was practically sobbing, Voldemort cooed and snapped a series of pictures. Pressing the camera back into Severus’ hands to be stored away again, he levitated the boy, who was attempting deep breaths and occasionally giggling or squeezing out another tear, and they were off.

To Washington and the Weasleys!

.

“…They are very good at escaping,” Severus explained himself, then pointed to the left, “Is that a sparkly immortal?” He shot down a confused looking owl to the right behind Voldemort and Harry and had his hands behind his back properly when they turned back to him, “My lord, perhaps if I knew why we needed them, I could resolve the problem for you…?”

“They’ve managed to weasel their way out again,” Voldemort sighed, before nudging an unimpressed Harry in the side with an expectant, excited expression.

“Yes, I did laugh myself to tears at that street performer,” Harry informed him dully, “That does not mean your puns are funny.”

After a moment of silence, in which Voldemort appeared to be allowing Harry time to change his mind and reveal how he truthfully adored the Dark Lord’s wordplay, said Dark Lord shrugged, “Well, on to my second hobby, then.” Harry was thrown over a thin shoulder and Severus beckoned to follow. “How much blood is in your body, Severus?” Voldemort asked curiously. Before Severus could answer with the somewhat alarmed protest obviously telegraphed from the tiny twitch of his eyebrow (really he wore his expressions on his face), Voldemort assured him, “I’m asking because I am going to replace the blood I bleed out of you with something better.”

“The Weasleys are probably on their way to Bolivia by now, I should really make sure of our travel plans if we’re going to catch up with them,” Severus replied, attempting to do just that before Voldemort spelled him with the same leash spell he used on Harry. It was touching how Severus always tried to do right by his Lord, to the point of passing up rewards and enhancements, but sometimes Voldemort knew best.

“I’m sure they won’t get far,” Voldemort chirped, “Come along, Severus.”

Harry spared Severus a pitying glance, but, really, had he thought that would work? The stress of being around Voldemort nearly as much as Harry was had to be getting to him.

Out of the goodness of his heart, Harry determinedly did not react to the stinging hex that hit him while Voldemort was distracted.

He should really keep in mind that he was surrounded by Legilimens and face readers.

.

In Bolivia, Voldemort did not find the Weasleys, but he did encounter a shaman who was willing to part with his hard earned wisdom with only a light application of force. This particular shaman had mastered walking between worlds to such an extent that he was known as a minor deity to several muggle religions. What interested Voldemort, however, was the knowledge he’d gained about the soul-body connection and how it finally filled in the piece of the puzzle he’d been working on for so long. Despite protests from Snape and Harry about the Weasleys getting away - neither of them wanted him to get any closer to his ultimate goals - Voldemort dragged them both into the nearest lair of sin and villainy and set to work removing the vermin inhabiting it so as to work in peace.

When the last unfortunate muggle criminal had splashed across the walls, the Dark Lord got right down to it, clearing and sanctifying a ritual space as he set up what might be his final experiment in this vein.

As for Harry, he had spent a lot of time peering over - and under - Voldemort’s shoulder over the years and years of Harry’s captivity and Voldemort’s ongoing invulnerability research and experiments. Despite what said Dark Lord might think, he wasn’t dumb enough to keep from picking anything up. Additionally, he was fully aware that there was no use trying to stop Voldemort when he was this deep into preparations. So it was sincere when he commented, idly, “That’s actually kind of brilliant.”

The skeletal man paused, back to Harry and bloodied hands held out to either side. It went on long enough that it passed uncomfortable and Harry started to feel an actual inkling of fear wriggle into his gut. Had he broken some unspoken rule of the game? Was Voldemort finally going to kill him?

He’d been resigned to it, at first, but after years of reforming wizarding Britain and wearing down Voldemort into allowing friend after friend leniency, Harry didn’t… want to die anymore.

When Voldemort finally turned to him, a wild look in his eye, Harry stumbled back a step but couldn’t escape the range of the Dark Lord’s long arms. Hands landed on his shoulders as Voldemort bent down to his level and demanded, “Do it again.”

“Do what?” Harry asked automatically.

“You know,” he freed one of Harry’s shoulders to gesture vaguely with a twist of his wrist, “Compliments. Niceness. Praise. You’ve never done it before.”

While Harry had not been aware he’d been withholding kindness, he wasn’t surprised. Crossing his arms over his chest, Harry leaned back as much as Voldemort’s grip would allow, “Do something that deserves it, and maybe I will.”

“Ah, but you’re impressed,” Voldemort grinned, a manic expression as he ignored the ultimatum, “You can’t help it. Proud of your old man, eh?”

“My what.”

“Oh, you won’t be so blase when I pull this off,” Voldemort waggled a finger at him and spun away with a laugh, back to the ritual he was working. “This is ground breaking research. Some may even call it brilliant.”

“You’ll never let this go, will you?”

A triumphant glance over his shoulder was all Voldemort would spare Harry now beyond a smug, “Being as brilliant as I am, I doubt I could forget.”

Still, Harry stood in silence as Voldemort worked on the ritual that would make him nigh invulnerable. Did nothing, five feet from the edge of the inscriptions.

The Death Eaters will run wild without him, he reasoned uneasily, and I’ve practically got him wrapped around my finger at this point.

Voldemort turned back to him with one last shit-eating grin and stepped backwards into the circle. It was a little ridiculous, but he’d been working on it for so long, Harry could really understand the sentiment-

The realization hit like a strike to the head. It hurt to the point of a buzz in his bones, but it was true, all the same.

“I am a little,” he said quietly as the lights spun up and colors danced in flashes of flame, certain Voldemort couldn’t hear him over the wind. Soon enough they couldn’t see each other through the light, either, and Harry dropped his head back against the wall with a lost, helpless smile, “Just a little proud."

.

"Finally, for god's sake," Voldemort exclaimed, keeping his wand up and suspending the pinwheeling Weasleys in midair, “You’re like… rats! Or rodents or something slithery and furry and good at escaping!” He was losing English at a rapid rate with the irritation that had taken them from Bolivia to Uzbekistan to Taiwan, where Voldemort’s mounting impatience had motivated him to heights that allowed them to overtake the fleeing Weasleys.

Resigned to this failure on his part, Severus tried not to look Harry in the eyes. Over the years of voluntary isolation in his self-imposed rescue mission, he'd learned that, compared to their wondrous and magnificent Lord, Harry was not pure shite crapped onto this earth to spite him, but merely an annoying human being who despite Severus' deepest wishes, had feelings.

He did not want to see these feelings.

Especially if they were the devastation and agony he expected.

"We safeguarded your house, by the way," Harry was saying at Voldemort's side, ignoring or not noticing the minor heart attack Severus had at his almost cheery tone, "So you won't have to worry about thieves having ransacked it while you were gone, since you kind of abandoned it...? Which I completely understand," his hands came up placatingly, despite the inability of the Weasleys to respond, "since you couldn't have known Voldemort's just sort of exiled you in absentia, meaning it's totally fine and legal for us to meet outside of Britain! You’re safe!"

He waited, arms spread, for the relieved sighs and cheers until Voldemort gave a start and looked at him, "Oh, would you like them to be able to speak again?"

"They can't?" Harry demanded, arms falling to his side and attention refocusing entirely on Voldemort, "Why not?"

"I didn't want them shouting at me," the Dark Lord whined, touching the side of his head gingerly, "My ears are still tender from the last ritual."

"You changed their sentence to exile?" Severus repeated blankly and belatedly, "You changed their sentence from being drawn and quartered with a preserving charm and blood replenishing potions to keep them alive, at the courtyard of Hogwarts on a Sunday, which you specified had to be balmy weather because you hated Scotland's cold, until they and the students of Hogwarts seemed suitably discouraged from open rebellion, before being fed piece by piece to a long and varied list of magical creatures until death, to exile? This highly detailed, obsessive, and vengeful sentence that has been standing for over a decade?"

Drawing a disgruntled Harry to his side, Voldemort declared grandly, "It was a great sacrifice to forego taking for myself some long overdue justice, but I would do anything for my dear child." After a moment of suffering two skeptical glares boring into him, Voldemort abandoned the act with an easy shrug, "Honestly, I rather forgot about the whole thing until Harry brought up wanting to see them."

Several thumps filled the air. Like gnats in thick smoke, the Weasleys had dropped from where Voldemort had kept them suspended, and Bill flourished his wand irritably, “And it seems you’ve all underestimated the Weasleys again. We will never bow-!”

“I don’t care,” Voldemort interrupted, “Really. I’ve accomplished everything I have ever wanted, and I sometimes forgot you existed beyond your use in making Harry cry.”

“What in the hell do you mean by that?” Ron demanded, clutching Hermione’s hand like a lifeline and standing protectively in front of a child that shared their features. The image plucked at something in Harry’s chest. It was almost as if they were protecting the child from him. But no, they just didn’t understand. He had to explain. Right. Right! He still hadn’t really explained! Harry hadn’t quite prepared himself for this sort of kickback, somehow. Somehow. Why hadn’t he…? Had he really expected them to be happy? He had. The realization hit like a kick in the gut. But Voldemort was opening his mouth to respond.

It was clear Harry needed to step in before the Dark Lord answered that last question. Regardless of his own internal turmoil.

“He thinks it’s…” No, he didn’t want to say Voldemort found it cute or they might get incorrectly inappropriate ideas, “He likes crying?” The explanation was lackluster, at best, but perhaps Harry was reeling ever so slightly over his shattered delusions. And that they had been there in the first place.

Had he thought the Weasleys would just accept the exile and welcome him with open arms?

How could he not have planned to convince them? Thought once about the consequences of these actions?

“You’re so young.” Hermione’s words rang out in the silence that had followed Harry stepping back into the conversation, her voice choked and her grip on Ron’s hand white-knuckled, “What has he been doing to you? You’ve been so vulnerable; how have you survived-” An overpowered silencing charm hit the small gathering of Weasleys.

“I raised him,” Voldemort interjected matter-of-factly, crossing his arms over his chest in a show of confidence that no matter how many offspring they had, not a one would be able to do him in, “and I didn’t do too shabby a job, if I do say so, myself. He’s sodding adorable.” A beat, and he added, “In the spirit of honesty, I’ve also been drugging him a little.”

A hand smacked his side, not doing any damage, but drawing a wounded look from Voldemort regardless. “I knew it!” Harry poked an accusing finger into Voldemort’s chest, “I knew I was not this damned weepy the first time around, you cheater!”

“It’s not cheating; it’s facilitation,” the pale man corrected with a didactic air, before sweeping a hand to the right and, with it, the blame, “Besides, it was Severus’ idea.”

“I assure you it was not,” his sudden victim spluttered with deep disgust, “I told you it needed to stop.”

That was not irrefutable if one only lied. Voldemort tapped his chin with one spidery finger, “I distinctly recall the word ‘don’t’ in front of that.”

“Don’t give the child sensitivity potions,” Severus intoned agitatedly, obviously quoting his past instructions, “Stop before you unbalance his emotional range forever.”

Waving a hand easily as if the whole thing could be cleared away like bad air only made Severus’ eyebrow tick faster. “Well, you can hardly blame me for misinterpreting that mess. I can see why you quit teaching.”

They bickered, providing a handy distraction to allow Harry his sudden crisis in peace. He looked over the Weasleys one by one. Fright, confusion, rage, met his gaze. They’d chased them across the world. Kids, kids he didn’t know, were crying, clutching their parents. George had a wife at his side; Hermione and Ron had a child; Molly was gone. Ginny stared at Voldemort hatefully, with a red-haired son at her side. They were all, to a one, pointing their wands this direction.

His direction.

Even Ron. Even Hermione. Even as his best friends shed tears for him.

Things had changed.

They looked so much older than they should be. Was it the stress of being on the run? But that child looked almost older than Harry, didn’t…? No, he needed to stop running off tangents, because… Because...

“You’ve made me as crazy as you are,” Harry realized aloud, tearing his gaze from the Weasleys to Voldemort with dawning horror. “You- we terrorized them just because I wanted to see them, and I didn’t think about it.”

“You know what you want,” Voldemort agreed, nodding and turning to utterly ignore the argument he’d been losing with Severus in favor of a subject change, “Maybe some would call that crazy-”

“Everyone would call it crazy! It’s despicable,” Harry spat, and suddenly Voldemort rather wanted to complete his civilized and highly preferable discussion with Severus. The boy looked anything but cute right now.

“Well, I was against it from the start,” he reminded his moody charge, but Harry cut him off.

“I know.” His voice was low, his hands clenched, but he still met Voldemort’s eyes. The vaunted Dark Lord almost wished he wouldn’t. There were weird things in there. Harry’s eyes swam with tears. Not good tears, either. His face wasn’t blotchy, and it was definitely emotional distress, but Voldemort wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t cute at all. If anything, it made him feel… the opposite of the cuteness. Like something cold was tied to his stomach and dragging it down instead of warming and lifting up.

He wasn’t enjoying it much.

“So, you know it wasn’t my fault,” he said tentatively, not quite understanding where the conversation had taken this turn or why. “You’re the one who was adamant on finding the Weasleys, even after they made it clear they preferred not to be found.”

“I know,” Harry repeated, eyes squeezing shut and tears making their way down his face.

Time had not paused for this dramatic confrontation, however, and the Weasleys weren’t sitting around watching it play out. They had better things to do.

Voldemort flew back with two blasts of blue and green light in quick succession and Severus shoved Harry away from the spell, shouting, “Down!”

But that didn’t matter.

Harry had just seen-

Voldemort had-

He knew that shade of green.

Everything went cold. Harry’s fingers, his stomach, his chest. His eyes couldn’t leave the spot Voldemort had been standing.

Not when arms grabbed him and lifted him to his feet. Not when Snape said, “I’ll make sure.” Not when a cup was shoved into his hands.

The portkey tore him away, tore the breath from his lungs.

No one could hear it, then, as the colors swirled around them and the Weasleys vanished with Harry to somewhere safer.

A quiet denial.

Harry’s soft no was lost to the void.

.

When they stumbled back into reality, the sun was shining, the Weasleys were crying and cheering, and Harry was left reeling.

“We’ve done it,” Ron said, dazedly, but a grin split his face as reality registered. He grabbed Harry in a hug that lifted his feet from the ground and spun him around, “You’re back, mate! We’ve got you and You Know Who is dead!”

Dead.

The word rang in Harry’s ears and finally jolted him from his shock.

This was what he’d wanted.

This was what had gotten him into this whole mess to begin with.

But his mind was scrambling for a reason it couldn’t be true.

Abruptly, he caught on a relevant memory, “The Horcruxes, we- we- didn’t get them all.” It was so hard to keep the hope from his mind, from his voice, but he suppressed it to a tremble, “In fact-”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hermione gripped him by both shoulders reassuringly even as her mouth remained set in a grin of pure joy and freedom, “We haven’t been idle. We couldn’t enter Britain to physically destroy the Horcruxes, but we postulated-”

“Hermione thought of it,” Ron corrected proudly.

She blushed, pleased, and dutifully continued, “I postulated that it was the link between the Horcruxes and the main soul which bound it to this plane, not the presence of the Horcruxes themselves. Once we made that leap, and after an illuminating trip to Australia - the soul magic there is leaps and bounds ahead of us - I designed a spell to sever that connection. The blue light, see?” Hermione could hardly stop for breath, flushed with victory, “And we had the locket, still, so we tested it out. The locket died when we severed its link to You Know Who. Casting it on You Know Who himself severed his link to every Horcrux.”

“Including you,” Ron said, quiet now, “We figured out that connection you had. You were a Horcrux, Harry, but you never have to worry about it again. The piece that was in you is gone now, forever.”

“And so is You Know Who!” their child cried, raising a cheer from the other Weasleys.

“Oh,” Harry said, searching instinctively for that connection and growing colder as he found nothing on the other end of it. It felt like he’d taken a step into a familiar room and tripped off the edge of a cliff, nothing beneath his feet and his heart in his throat. “Oh,” he repeated, and promptly passed out.

.

“He’s so young,” Hermione said again, running a hand over Harry’s dark hair where he was laid out in the upper bedroom of the Delacour’s estate in South Africa.

“Too young,” Charlie agreed uneasily from the door, “It’s been sixteen years and he looks younger than Hugo.”

“You Know Who might have experimented on him,” Bill put in quietly, and Fleur wrapped her arm around his shoulders in solidarity, “Can you imagine… A child in the hands of the Dark Lord.”

Touching her forehead to Harry’s, Hermione closed her eyes to stifle tears, “And not just any child.”

“They seemed chummy,” Ginny said bluntly.

“Mum,” her son tugged her shirt in nervous reprimand, but she just briefly rested a hand on his head.

“No, Aaron, someone’s got to say it.” Her voice was firm, and she stood straighter with her arms crossed defensively over her chest, “Riddle was a master manipulator before he went nuts. Harry’s been with him for years, and not once have we heard from him. Snape’s been by his side the whole time, and you’ve heard his reports. Harry used to resist. He used to try to escape. He used to keep himself apart from Riddle as much as he could. One could say he used to be on our side.”

“No,” Ron stood angrily to protest her conclusions, but Ginny wouldn’t let him interfere with her momentum.

“Let’s face it. The regime won’t fall because Riddle is dead and Harry has been a prisoner of war for over a decade, under the thumb of a Dark Lord who has admitted to drugging him and who was never seen in public without Harry by his side. Maybe the Harry you knew, the one who was almost an adult, through sheer power of will, could manage to keep some sense of self intact. How can you possibly expect that of a child? A toddler? An infant? Because that’s what he is, now.” She pointed forcefully at the bed, “A child raised by Tom Riddle.” Hands up now, fending off arguments before they could begin, “I’m not saying we were wrong to take him. I’m not saying he hasn’t suffered. I’m not even saying we shouldn’t try to help him. I am saying we shouldn’t be too quick to let pity and nostalgia blind us to the threat he might pose if we do.” Another jerk of her hand towards the bed, “No one can go through that much time with Tom Riddle and remain unchanged.”

“You’re right.”

The soft voice from the bed made everyone jump, and Ginny’s righteousness faltered, arm dropping.

Harry had his palms pressed to his eyes, having made no move to leave the bed, and he lifted them to reveal a face streaked with tears, “Things have changed.”

“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, just a little late.

A watery smile, “I have missed you guys, though. You might have noticed, with the international chase, and all. I’m… I’m sorry about that.”

“No, no,” Hermione soothed, moving her thumb across his cheek as Ron assured him, “That wasn’t your fault, mate.”

“It was.” Harry denied, sitting up and curling around his knees as if to ward them off. Hermione dropped her hands from his face.

Glancing at the way Ginny’s expression was hardening, Ron leaned in and suggested, “Let’s talk about this later, yeah? You’ve just woken up, Harry. You’re finally free after all that time. You’re bound to be confused.”

“Take a second and breathe,” Hermione added.

Footsteps drew the attention of the room to the door before Percy poked his head in, “Is Harry awake…?” Trailing off at the tension in the room, he took a good look at the guilt in Harry’s childish face, Hermione and Ron’s protective posture, and the general air of hostility circulating unhappily about. “Not the time,” he concluded and showed himself out. Charlie was right behind him, offering no excuse or explanation as he took the coward’s way out.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Harry launched into a confused explanation, his guilt and his grief tripping him up as he stumbled into the words, “It is my fault you were scared and running and you probably felt so hopeless and cornered and you couldn’t have known why Voldemort was suddenly intent on hunting you down after years of ignoring you and it’s all because I just wanted to see you.”

“Harry,” Hermione looked hesitant as she put a hand on the arms he’d layered defensively on top of his knees, “Have you considered he might have lied to you, so you would help him find us? I know you remember everything, but your brain is still,” she stumbled over the exact age and substituted, “young.”

“He didn’t; I know,” Harry insisted, sounding as young as he looked before he shook himself with visible frustration at the slip, “Look, he was happy to keep signing documents he barely read and working on his experiments before I found out you were actually alive and well. I thought he’d killed you, and that he was just making up those horrible stories about how you were- um,” probably he shouldn’t tell them he’d sometimes thought they were love slaves to Voldemort’s allied clans of giants, “working in concentration camps, because I had never seen any documentation for any work camps cross his desk, but once I knew you were alive, I just… I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could see you again, and how much I missed you,” his traitorous eyes started streaming again, and he mentally cursed Voldemort for whatever he’d done to Harry’s emotional control, ignoring the pang in his chest when it wasn’t answered. When he knew it would never be answered.

“So I…” His cheeks grew hot with embarrassment at the most accurate description, but Harry related hastily, “I nagged him, constantly, about letting me see you. He wouldn’t pardon you, but he changed your sentence to exile after the first few days, and then he tried to block me out with the noisier experiments, but we have- h- had that link and I just kept… Bothering-” his voice broke for a second, but he cleared his throat and tried again, “bothering him until he gave in to shut me up. He never would have remembered to track you down if I hadn’t- if I hadn’t-”

Harry wished he hadn’t.

Wished he didn’t wish it.

He was free.

It wasn’t a loss; it was something regained.

“I mean, it worked out for the best,” he babbled helplessly, tears streaming down his face, “I’m free and he’s dead and you’re safe, but I,” didn’t want him dead, “didn’t want to put you through s- something like that, and I - I didn’t even think about what it would do to you! I didn’t think about keeping you safe and happy! I didn’t think maybe you were- were better off never-” Dissolving into sobs, Harry couldn’t focus on any one expression in the room. He couldn’t tell if he’d convinced them he was to blame for the fear they’d felt, fleeing the Dark Lord. Couldn’t tell if they knew how twisted up inside he felt about it. If they could forgive him that, that small portion of feelings he had that would condemn him in their eyes.

“You just… nagged Tom Riddle into finding us,” Ginny said slowly, “so you could see us again.”

“Yes,” Harry confirmed through another wet sob, clutching his knees harder against his chest, “I’m sorry. And I’m sorry I can’t st- stop crying, I don’t know why-”

“The Dark Lord was slipping you sensitivity potions on the sly,” Severus informed them quickly as he swept into the room, face and tone carefully blank, “Though I had thought he’d stopped the practice when I refused to brew them in your infancy.”

“Severus?” Fleur gripped her husband’s shoulder tighter, “You’re not due back for days. What happened?”

“There’s been a… hiccup in the plan,” he informed them carefully, glancing at Harry, whose tears were beginning to trail off as the boy focused on the distraction of Severus’ sudden appearance.

When he didn’t seem inclined to explain any further, Ron prompted impatiently, “Well, what is it?”

“Perhaps-” Severus’ posture was impeccably rigid, as if he had found himself uncomfortably and unexpectedly in between the Dark Lord and a hidden library of ancient secrets. He wet his lips nervously, tone slipping slightly into urgent as he tightened his grip on the wand Harry only just noticed was drawn, “Perhaps we might take this downstairs.”

“Now,” Severus added when Ron opened his mouth to ask another imbecilic question.

“Before it’s too late,” he hissed when Hermione seemed inclined to join said peanut gallery.

“There’s a failsafe!” he finally exclaimed when George curiously made to speak, shooting daggers with his glare before he pinched the bridge of his nose and repeated marginally more calmly, “There’s a failsafe, in the event of the Dark Lord’s death, that he kept close to his chest. I don’t know what it is; I didn’t even know it existed until Bellatrix screamed at me that ‘a darkness will rise with his vanquish and sweep across the land until all who have stood against him in life join him in death.’” Before anyone could protest that Bellatrix Lestrange was not the best source for vital information about the Dark Lord’s powers or lack thereof, Severus raised a hand for patience, “Lucius knows about it, as well. Or of it, I should say.”

“The reckoning,” Harry recalled abruptly, paling.

“And everyone but me knew about it,” Severus corrected with an air of disgust.

“He would tell me,” Harry explained hastily, ignoring Severus completely, “usually after I’d failed to murder him, that if I did succeed, the reckoning would take care of it and he’d still win. It- it always sounded like the boogeyman stories people tell kids to make them behave, you know? Not like anything real. Especially since when I was younger, he used to literally try to make it a bedtime story the nights he got sick of reading his dissection notes aloud.”

Bedtime story, Ron mouthed in horror, garnering a quick glare from his wife at not focusing on the important information here.

“What would he say?” Hermione took his hand in hers, her voice urgent, “This is important, Harry, can you remember?”

“Um, something about the earth trembling,” Harry said, distressed and panicky, “He r- really liked that part. The earth trembling in fear before his vengeance. He’d say… He’d say trees would fall and mountains would crumble as the earth trembled in fear before his vengeance! Right! And the- the stars would blink out one by one for the person it came for. Next…” Frustrated, Harry clutched at his hair, trying to jog his memory and murmuring snippets of nonsense under his breath, “Darkness before it, destruction inside… Destruction inside… Famine and death will follow behind!” He quickly wiped the pleased smile at finally remembering it when the horror his audience was displaying registered.

“The earth trembling is probably hyperbole,” Hermione muttered, “But that last part sounds like a riddle. Darkness before, destruction inside… Famine and death behind…” Her brows furrowed in confusion, “Locusts? They can blot out the sky with a big enough swarm, they destroy crops as they pass, and leave famine and death behind them. But we’re… we’re wizards. If he only destroyed the crops of his enemies, we could easily steal from the muggles or buy from others. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The lights went out.

“I didn’t even think of locusts, good show. As it is, the first part was hyperbole, but I am serious about the famine and death,” came a familiar voice, sounding vaguely muffled. As the lights came slowly back on for his dramatic entrance, Voldemort strolled into the room with a basket of fruits and pointed a half-eaten banana at those assembled before him, informing them with his mouth still full, “I will eat you out of house and home. Given time.”

Before anyone else could react, Ron was on his feet, wand drawn and aimed, with his family not far behind him, demanding desperately, “How are you alive?”

The Dark Lord favored him with an unimpressed stare, “You moved me a few feet. And Severus slit my throat. Which, rude, but ultimately ineffective.” He examined the banana he had left consideringly, checking its heft before he threw it directly into Severus’ terrified face with a flat, “Bitch.”

“Voldemort?” Harry was half out of the bed, eyes wide and one hand on the side of his head, “But you’re still gone.”

Indignantly, Voldemort moved the basket around to rest on his hip, “Now see here, young man, I am right in front of y- oh. Oh, right.” His stern expression softened to chagrin, “You’re gone, too. But I’m still alive.” When Harry didn’t seem at all settled by this explanation, he made to reach out to the boy, but Ron imposed himself between them, wand at the ready.

“Not another step!” he exclaimed.

“You’re really not getting it, are you?” Voldemort mused wryly, but when Ron didn’t waver, he sighed, “Harry, do you need him alive?”

“Do I- yes. Yes!” Harry hastened to confirm after the brief flash of confusion passed.

“Fine.” The word was clipped, and Voldemort made a sharp gesture with his wand. Everyone, bar Harry, was thrown against the wall and held there, feet dangling, by an unseen force. With their hands pinned, there was no chance of magical resistance this time. Voldemort would grant that perhaps one of them could cast silently, but a silent spell without even wand movements? That was incredibly unlikely. What had he been doing before they’d been interrupted again? Right.

Voldemort leaned down and took Harry’s face in his hands, “I know I’m not in your head anymore, and you’re not in mine, but I am still here.” He pressed a kiss to the boy’s fading scar, reassuring him, “I will, literally, always be here.” Releasing Harry, he made a wobbly gesture with one hand, “Unless I get bored of Earth, but that might take millennia and there doesn’t seem to be much worth exploring in space, either.”

A muffled sound broke through the silencing he’d laid on the other occupants of the room, which told epics about the amount of effort involved as Ron’s mouth continued to move in a soundless series of probably curses at the Dark Lord. Voldemort, for his part, rolled his eyes.

“This visit has gone on long enough. I’ve rather enjoyed traveling again, though, so we needn’t to return to Britain right away-” As tears began to silently track down Harry’s face again from already puffy red eyes, Voldemort cut himself off with a panicked, “Wait, don’t cry!”

He slapped his hands over his mouth in the next second, but the damage was done.

“What?” Harry looked up at him, shocked out of his relapse into a wet mess, “It’s the only reason you’ve kept me alive so long.”

“Not the only reason,” Voldemort protested, eyes averted, before adding in a somewhat hunted mutter, “I also didn’t want to piss off magic again by killing an infant.”

The boy stood from the bed, lips thin and eyes wild, “I haven’t been an infant for years!”

Ron made another strangled noise through the charm and Voldemort whirled on him, misplacing frustration all over the place with an enraged, “Can I please finish a conversation with my son?” The Dark Lord paused, still facing Ron, and took a deep, if shaky, breath, before turning back to Harry with an abrupt change in tack, tone tightly controlled, “I have my reasons for keeping you alive and I don’t have to explain myself to you. Can we go now?” He had his hands out to either side, palms up in a pose that would be wide open for someone able to be physically harmed, and though he was clearly trying to project only exasperation, trying to gloss over what he’d said, his fingers trembled. Sarcastically, he added, “Or do you want to keep blaming me for giving you what you wanted?”

He’d just said…

So all this time…

Voldemort had, against Harry’s express wishes, kept the boy supplied with wizarding toys, new clothes, books on anything he expressed an interest in. He’d tried to do the whole bedtime story thing religiously until Harry finally was old enough that Voldemort took his protests of having outgrown it seriously. Never had he raised a hand against him, and honestly? The Dark Lord had kept him at his side nearly every single day and not shown a hint of impatience beyond when Harry was pressing for another change in the government or his friends’ legal statuses.

He’d tried to murder Voldemort on multiple occasions and got only fondness in response.

Eyes still wide, Harry dragged his gaze away from the Dark Lord, tracing over the faces watching this interaction with emotions ranging from fear to rage to resignation.

Wouldn’t it be better if he’d just left them alone?

If Voldemort left them alone?

Because Harry was sure now that he knew what he… now that he knew what he knew; where he went, Voldemort would inevitably follow. Whether from betrayal and hatred if he left, or from...

“We’d go away,” Harry said slowly, still watching the captive audience more than Voldemort, “and Britain could rule itself?”

“Sure,” this was waved away easily, “Your relentless nagging produced enough goodwill that rebellion is at an all time low. They don’t need my muscle to keep the peace and all I need to get by is… my muscle…” Voldemort trailed off, contemplating whether he could have conveyed that a little bit better, but shrugged off the feeling in seconds, “My main aspirations in life are complete. Not many people on this planet can say that.”

“Now you just… want a family road trip.” The words came a little incredulously, but with a tinge of something lighter. Positive. An emotional spectrum Voldemort was not adept at identifying anymore. “You just want to travel with me; retire from the whole domination of a small country gig; play golf and make up new spells and dissect magical creatures. With me.”

“I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that-” Voldemort hedged, but Harry had already started walking towards the door and he turned to follow. Suddenly, the boy stopped, looking Voldemort dead in the eyes.

“I hate you,” he told him seriously, and Voldemort was taken aback for only a moment before it clicked.

“I hate you, too,” he replied and held out a hand, “Let’s go, Harry.”

Harry took it. “You’ll let them down when we’re gone, right?”

A snort and an unintelligible reply as they walked down the stairs.

Minutes later, Voldemort’s spell released.

.

“In light of these findings, it seems some sort of new-found invasive species is migrating around the globe, settling in each place long enough to upset magical ecosystems before moving on to the next country. Citizens are advised to keep small pets and children indoors and we remind you that when you know about illegal crossbreeding occurring in your neighborhood you must report it, regardless of whether it’s ‘adorable’ or ‘wicked’ for the love of…”

Hermione turned down the Wizarding Wireless and put a hand on Ron’s back where he was slumped over the desk, maps on every wall and his face in his hands.

“It’s them, I know it,” he said into his palms.

“You’re right, but Ron,” she slid into the chair next to him, looping her arms around him comfortingly, “I think he’s alright. And Voldemort’s gone. Maybe not the way we planned it, but Britain is…” Her hesitation made Ron scowl.

“It’s better than it was before he took over, admit it. He forced reform after reform until the rebellion still there became his greatest supporters and his, frankly, terrorized Death Eaters either fell in line, realized the financial benefits of actually hiring muggleborns and beings, or fell to his wand.” He made a face and spoke in a rough imitation of Voldemort, “Because of Harry’s relentless nagging.”

Leaning onto Ron’s shoulder, Hermione confessed, “I wrote him a letter.”

“Harry?” Ron said, surprised.

“No, Voldemort,” Hermione whacked him on the side when he took her sarcasm seriously, his blue eyes widening dramatically, “Yes, Harry, of course.”

“Did he…?”

Answering the question Ron was afraid to finish, Hermione said softly, “He wrote back.” Digging in her robe for a moment, she produced an envelope, “I can’t open it.”

Taking the letter with impatient hands, Ron tore into it, prompting a laugh from his wife.

“I knew I could count on you,” she smiled, and he began to read aloud.

Dear Hermione,

I was really shocked to hear from you. I had to be coaxed through opening the letter before I came back to my senses and threw Voldemort out of the room. Don’t worry, he didn’t get to read it. You’d have a very different response if he did. Just a parchment tied to the fastest flying creature Voldemort’s created that said RUN.

(That was a joke)

(With a small amount of truth)

I’m okay. No, I won’t lie to you. I’m happy. He’s fine, too; he’s perfectly content puttering around the globe disturbing the magical wildlife and local experts now that he’s not worried he could die at any moment. Which, honestly, explains a lot about him. You’ll be thrilled to know I’m a polyglot now - and no, I did not have to ask Voldemort to know what that means. I’ve taken complete control of any communication we have with the native humans of a given area. It’s just the best option for everyone involved. The research we’re doing is really interesting, actually. Now that Voldemort’s basically a fixed point in the universe, he’s looking into how to preserve the natural areas of the world against pressing threats such as the sun’s inevitable expansion millions of years from now.

Yes, he is a planner, this one. Says he might briefly regret living forever if he didn’t have a single forest to walk through. Supposedly his meddling is making the places we pass through more robust, but the results are not going to be evident for a few years, at least. Maybe decades in the long run.

I know what you’re thinking.

Harry, he’s a maniac, and you’re planning decades of babysitting an incredibly powerful and indestructible madman with a wand.

A blot of ink dotted the page as if the quill had hovered over it unmoving for a time.

I had to stop for a second to make sure he wasn’t reading over my shoulder from the window there. He gets into these sulks, but that’s not important.

What I’m trying to say is, I really appreciate your offer, and if things weren’t the way they are, I’d accept it in a second. It’s not just that Voldemort would hunt us down and burn us to ash, gleefully salting the earth we trod on with our traitorous feet.

Though that is an important factor to take into account.

But I couldn’t pass as a normal kid.

Hermione, I still look basically twelve. I still feel twelve, sometimes.

Voldemort barely noticed at first, he honestly thought I’d reached thirteen years old for three or four years in a row, and I don’t think he actually registered how long it’s been that I’ve been stuck around there until I brought it up last year. I didn’t even realize myself until I saw Hugo that first time, but I’m not aging correctly. It’s slow.

And getting slower.

I’d have to stay hidden if we stayed in one place, not just in disguise. Isolated entirely or it’s inevitable someone would figure it out. I don’t know if I could live like that, and I couldn’t ask you to travel the way we are now. Voldemort thinks it’s got something to do with being a horcrux for so long and then being physically ‘reset’ by that spell. I don’t claim to understand it, but it does mean I can keep our neighborhood Dark Lord distracted from terrorising mankind for longer than any of us might have expected.

There’s something else, though, and I feel I owe it to you, to both you and Ron, to be honest.

I won’t accept your offer, because I’ve already got a family. I should have realized he cared for me the first time I thought the words wrapped around my finger and knew they were accurate. As for me…

How you felt when he died was how I felt when we learned he was still alive.

He’s a terrible excuse for a father, but he’s the closest thing I’ve got. Speaking of Voldemort, it’s been suspiciously quiet out there. I’d better go check what he’s up to.

I miss you, but don’t look for me.

I’m sorry.

Harry

.

“You don’t regret it,” Voldemort said uncertainly, after raising a blind composed of the forest floor for their latest expedition in Thailand. It was as close to a question about Harry’s feelings that the Dark Lord could probably bring himself to go.

Running a hand over his face, Harry sighed, “You read the-”

“I read the letter,” Voldemort admitted shamelessly, “Then I made the owl into an inferius so it could still complete the delivery.” At the sharp look he got, Voldemort snorted, “It will fly away from your little friends before it explosively decomposes.” On the heels of this was a break in the conversation Harry didn’t know how to fill before Voldemort asked, casually, “What did she offer you?”

“You can’t kill her, or I’m out,” Harry reminded him.

A raised hairless brow as Voldemort ushered them both into the blind, “Don’t be ridiculous, Harry. I would never kill my child’s pets. Especially not on purpose. What sort of parent do you think I am?”

This comment garnered narrowed eyes that made the older man pinch Harry’s cheeks until the child gave in, rubbing his face briefly to restore circulation before he grudgingly relayed the information.

“Rescue, adoption, and safe haven,” Harry ticked off on his fingers.

“That’s disgusting and I am appalled to have heard such a revolting and, frankly, nosy offer,” Voldemort declared immediately, without a single second needed to think it through, “I can raise you however I want.” Something seemed to occur to him and he wobbled his head as if making a mental concession, “Within certain obvious physical limits.”

Harry set up the sensing equipment as he dipped into a wry tone, “Do I want to know?”

“I don’t know, do you?” Voldemort asked curiously.

Taking into account Voldemort’s vague enthusiasm at the idea, Harry shook his head, “That’s a no.” Teaching had turned out to be Voldemort’s passion after all, second only to finding shit out at any and all costs. The combination of these two pursuits resulted in Harry learning things he often didn’t want to know, and sometimes hadn’t known he wouldn’t want to know.

New and exciting ways to be traumatized.

They worked in silence for a while.

“I don’t regret it,” Harry spoke quietly, not faltering in his tuning of the magical radiance subsonic receiver even as Voldemort paused his side of things, putting the galdorsang monitor down.

“And you didn’t lie, in that letter,” he pressed, “You’re… happy?”

“Yeah, I mean, more often than not,” Harry shrugged, embarrassed and wishing he’d somehow kept even the existence of the letter a secret. Before he could try to gloss over it, Voldemort smoothed a hand over his hair, silently, and Harry looked up to meet uncharacteristically serious eyes.

“Me, too.”

The Dark Lord smiled tentatively.

And the one who vanquished him smiled back.