Everything is white. The sheerness of it, like a silken mist, presses against wounds and stings where it hits weeping blood. Everything hurts, and there is a keening in the distance – or is it distant? Perhaps it is only distant because of the tinniness of it, yet it is loud, and sounds ever so close.
Slowly, a flat surface becomes apparent through the pain, blood-slick and cold. Movement is impossible. The tinny keening is still there. It ebbs and swells, but never truly ceases, and somehow, time passes, until –
A sense, a pull. A tug. Like a Portkey to the navel, yanking lightly at the intestines, beckoning. It hurts to move, but it hurts to stay, and something different seems like something worth exploring, through the haze that is the white, white world.
He follows it.
Hogwarts was not in ruins, and Harry Potter was staring at it in awe.
Magic, he thought, forgetting for a moment all that he had experienced in the past seven years. Magic, he thought, was incredible. For a moment, just a second, he managed to become Just Harry, an eleven year old with broken glasses and baggy clothes, his heart full of the glory of the impossible made possible. For that single precious moment, he was Harry, Just Harry, and the Boy-Who-Lived, the Chosen One, the Vanquisher of Voldemort, were all but cloaks that he had dropped behind him on the train tracks.
He shook his head, and the moment was gone. Ron and Hermione were at his shoulder, where they were supposed to be. Ginny waved to him, her hair cut short sometime over the summer, and the three of them climbed into the carriage to sit with her. Neville was in there too, his nose a little more crooked than Harry recalled, but his grin was same intensity that Harry remembered from the aftermath of the battle all those days ago.
It had been –
He still couldn’t quite believe it.
Hogwarts was different. Perhaps it was never going to be the same.
The eighth years had all been put up together in one dorm. Nobody complained, which seemed to throw McGonagall for a loop. Harry understood, though. For all that the houses had been a constant presence in their lives, they no longer seemed to matter much.
Through some miracle of luck, Harry and Ron were randomly selected to room together. McGonagall looked suspiciously over at Harry when he couldn’t control his elated grin, but in the end she allowed it without any comment. Probably, Harry thought, she figured that something terrible would happen if she forced them to separate, like rooming Harry with Draco.
Though perhaps that might not have been so bad. Harry and Draco had spoken briefly on the train ride – the first they’d spoken, really, since the battle. Harry had testified in Draco’s favor at his trial, practically lied to the Wizengamot. Narcissa kept inviting him over for tea, but he always declined, making the excuse of putting Grimmauld Place in order. He knew he’d have to accept it some day, but – not yet.
Harry was a Prefect now, too. He wasn’t certain how to feel about this. He didn’t enjoy the way the younger years gaped at him, the way that some students would rush up to him in tears throughout the first week, clinging to his hand as if he were a lifeguard pulling them from water. He let them, though, because some part of himself had finally realized that it wasn't really about him. It was about them – about the enormity of everything they’d been through. He let them sob and patted them awkwardly on the shoulder, and he forced himself to imagine that everything would be okay in the end. Strangely, they seemed to believe him when he told them so.
Otherwise, things were odd – strange in their normality. Harry never caught himself imagining that his Defense teacher was out to get him. There was no atmosphere of lingering dread that something unusual was going on. There were no clues or disconnections between act and speech that he could find, no suspicious people. Nobody new, who might be dangerous, or provide some information not yet known.
He enjoyed it, but he didn’t know what to do with himself, either, and so he often found himself in the library with Hermione. Ron would sit with them, not working as hard, but reveling in the ability to be quiet. Even Ron, Harry supposed, had lost his need to so frantically do, now that Voldemort was done. Boredom and idleness were no longer anathema to the eighth years, but a blessing, hard won by blood.
He should have known it wouldn’t be that simple.
Harry and Ginny were walking when it happened. Ron and Hermione were farther down the corridor, following, but apart. Each pair was having their own little talks, and it was strangely comfortable for everyone to respect those boundaries.
They passed by the Great Hall. Then they passed by the antechamber to the side of the Great Hall, and Harry paused as a chill washed over his spine.
“Harry?” Ginny asked.
He smiled ruefully at her. “Nothing,” he said. “Just – ”
He stared back into the empty room. For it was empty. Voldemort’s corpse was banished, not more than twenty-four hours after the battle ended for good. Nobody wanted to think about burials for him – nobody wanted him turned into some sort of effigy upon on which frustrations could be taken out. So McGonagall had banished him, robes and bones and all.
And that was that.
Ginny followed Harry’s gaze into the empty room. The inside was dark, shadows clinging to the stonework like spiderwebs. The room, for all that it had only held Voldemort’s dead body for about fourteen hours, felt malevolent. Harry wished to walk away, and yet he continued to look as if hypnotised.
He didn’t really want to enter. But he thought that, in the shadows, he saw something move.
Ginny’s hand on his arm jolted him from his strange trance. Harry let out a long breath.
“You alright, mate?” Ron said. He and Hermione have caught up while Harry and Ginny were staring at the empty room, and Harry glanced at them for a moment. But his attention was pulled inexorably back to the room.
“Yeah, fine,” he muttered. But even as he spoke, he went to pull his wand from his belt. “I’m – just going to put some light in there.”
He must have sounded wretched to them, because he sounded tense and jittery to himself. But all he got were nods and understanding smiles, so despite his trepidation, he held his wand aloft and marched in. To clear the shadows. To clear his mind of ghosts.
The air in the room felt deathly cold, but Harry figured it was probably just him. He must have imagined the way his breath became vapor as it passed his lips.
“Lumos,” he muttered, and began to toss fairy lights into the corners of the room. The sconces guttered when he lit them, and a trickle of charcoal fell from one to scatter across the flagstones. The shadows crept away. The room was no longer chill and dank, but lit with warm lights and flame, so that any trace of discomfort was removed. Harry smiled to himself, and tucked his wand into his belt again.
“Harry,” said Hermione tightly. “Harry?”
Harry turned to ask her what was wrong, and Ginny shrieked.
“You! You monster, you piece of shit!”
Her voice was gutteral and ragged, as if somebody had pierced her lungs with a sword. Harry whirled, wand whipping back into his hand, and saw a face he hadn’t seen since he was twelve, scrawny, and scared, clutching a sword that was longer than his body and a ragged hat and a poisonous fang –
But no, that wasn’t quite right. His vision didn’t match up perfectly with his memory. The Slytherin uniform was soaked with blood and stained with silver, charcoal wisps of smoke falling from him in drops to vanish before they hit the ground. His face, bone structure still the same, but carved up by hairline wounds that wept the blackish-red ichor staining all his clothes. He had hair, despite it all, matted and stained with blood – he had a nose, the bridge cut horizontally as it might be.
But his eyes were a deep, burning red, as Tom Marvolo Riddle, looking for all the world 16, stared at Harry’s face with a form that drifted into transparency at the edges.
“Potter,” he snarled – his teeth bared, stained red and black, his pronunciation flickering into the lisp of Parseltongue. His fingers curled into claws, reaching for Harry’s neck. “You upstart, you obnoxious little boy – ”
“Reducto!” Harry screamed, wand aimed point-blank at Riddle’s forehead.
The spell whistled through the man-turned-teenager and struck the wall behind him. The stones shuddered and cracked, and still Riddle advanced towards Harry. A deathly chill swiped through his throat – and then again. But there was no pain.
Somebody yanked his arm. Harry stumbled back, trying to aim, but unable to catch a proper target. Ginny was screaming still, but this time in spells – Reducto and Bombarda and Impedimenta and Incarcerous and even Frangere – and through the roaring in Harry’s ears, he heard distant crashing.
“Amoveo!” Hermione finally yelled. A distant, keening cry echoed that tugged at something deep inside Harry’s chest, and then there was nothing but the crashing of stone, the grinding of cracked flagstones. He regained his bearings to find himself collapsed on the floor, to see Ginny panting heavily and staring at the rubbled, caved-in archway that once led to the room where Voldemort’s corpse was placed.
“Funny, innit,” said Ron slowly, “how McGonagall doesn’t even care we wrecked part of the castle walls?”
“It’s not funny, Ron,” Ginny said shortly.
“It kinda is, Gin – ”
“No it isn’t!” she shrieked. Not quite as loud as before, but still a yell. “That was Riddle, Ron!”
“The snakey git probably cursed his body or something,” Ron said with a shrug. “You know. Freaky apparition to whoever killed him coming back to the scene of the – er – deed?” He glanced at Harry as he spoke, but Harry was too busy trying to force his heart rate back to normal, and to force his palms to stop sweating.
That hadn’t seemed like a cursed illusion. It had been like the Diary – it had seemed real. As if Voldemort would really say such things to him, had he somehow been given the chance to speak with Harry after his death.
“It wasn’t a curse,” said Hermione, confirming Harry’s worst nightmare. “He only vanished when I used Amoveo on him.” Her voice shook briefly, but firmed up again when she took a deep breath. “That spell only works on ghosts.”
Harry didn’t see Riddle – Voldemort – again all day. Everything proceeded so naturally that he almost wondered if he had imagined it all. He, Ron, and Hermione sat in the library after classes, at their usual table, and did homework, or zoned out into space. They returned to the eighth year common room after dinner, where Harry and Ron were dragged into a large game of Gobstoppers, and Hermione retired early. Harry showered and got ready for bed, and never once saw hide nor hair of any form of Voldemort or Riddle at all.
He woke up in the middle of the night with freezing air against his neck. Goosebumps had erupted all over his body, his stomach felt topsy-turvy, and the deathly chill was in his throat, trickling into his lungs. Harry hacked until he felt certain he’d cough up a lung. When he finally managed to open his eyes long enough to notice anything, a pair of hellish, nearly glowing red irises stared back at him.
Harry whipped up his wand. Riddle thrust a hand into Harry’s forehead, almost halting his movements with the burst of pure cold hitting his very brain. Through chattering teeth, Harry shoved the tip of his wand into Riddle’s ghostly chest and muttered “A-amaveo.”
“Idiot,” Riddle hissed – Riddle’s ghost hissed. Great Merlin, Riddle was a bloody ghost!
“Fuck you,” Harry hissed back. “Get off of me.”
Strangely, this worked where the spell did not. Riddle’s ghostly hands flew away from Harry’s throat, and his whole body jerked back in a strange, twisted motion, not quite the way that limbs should bend on living humans. The ghostly Dark Lord fell through the foot of Harry’s bed, vanishing from sight.
“No,” Harry heard.
The hiss was a whisper, but in the silence of the bedroom, it became thunderously loud. “No,” Riddle hissed again, louder, more anguished. “No, no, no, no no no NO – ”
“Mate, what the hell is that noise?”
Harry whipped around, moving quickly to part his curtains. Ron squinted thickly through the darkness from the other side of the room. The hissing had gone silent.
Harry looked at Ron. Ron looked at Harry.
“Huh,” Ron finally said. “Guess I imagined it.”
Was he imagining it? The next day passed perfectly normally and uneventfully, until Harry could almost believe that to be true. He could believe that he, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all somehow had the same collective stress-hallucination – trauma from the war. He could believe that he’d had a follow-up stress dream involving Riddle’s ghost, even. It all seemed far more bearable than…
Well. Than the alternative.
He went to sleep and tried to forget about it.
In the morning, Ron woke him up with screaming. Before Harry could consciously react he was awake, flinging the curtains away so he could see better. There before his eyes stood Riddle at the foot of Harry’s bed, glaring down at him with a vicious bitterness that Harry had never seen before on Riddle’s countenance, snake-faced or not. It was a new look for him.
He didn’t even seem to react to Ron’s yelling until Harry tried to shoot another Amaveo at him. The pale gray spell passed right through Riddle’s chest and dissipated somewhere behind him without reaching the wall. Yet somewhere in there Ron had stopped yelling, and he instead stood beside his bed in his pants and a loose tunic, wand pointed loosely at Riddle.
“H-Harry,” Ron said. “That’s not…”
“Potter,” Riddle spat.
“Er,” Harry said.
There was a long silence.
“Let’s be clear, Potter,” Riddle said. “I loathe you. I despise you. You good-for-nothing brat, you are a stain on my very existence – ”
“Is that me, then?” Harry interrupted, and pointed at one of the particularly vivid bloodstains on Riddle’s white uniform tunic.
The ghost of the Dark Lord made a noise that Harry had never heard before. It was a strange mix between a hissing snake and a teakettle’s keen.
“Look,” Harry said slowly, once the noise had ended and there had been silence for another long moment. “You hate me, Riddle, I get that. I don’t want you around either. I guess I didn’t expect you to become a ghost, but it’ll be better for both of us in the end if you just go away.”
Ron made a strangled noise. “Mate, he’s – ”
“Yes, yes, I’m,” Riddle snapped. He sneered at Ron. “We meet at last, Ronald Weasley. I didn’t take you for the type to have minions, Potter, but you know what they – ”
Ron grabbed a book and pitched it at Riddle’s head. It went right through the ghost and thudded on the carpet behind him.
“You insolent – ”
He began to rant. Harry, though, was far more distracted by the sight of Ron nodding to himself in satisfaction. The freckles between his eyes and across the bridge of his nose smoothed out as his brows unfurrowed, and instead, he merely looked smug. He tucked his wand back into its place by his bed.
“Er,” he said, as Ron got back into bed, apparently totally unbothered by the yelling, gesturing Dark Lord in the center of their dorm room. “Ron?”
Harry cast a significant look at the ghost. He didn’t bother to try listening to what Riddle was saying – more stuff about how Harry and Ron were terrible and ought to be tortured to death, probably.
Ron blinked at Harry, and glanced at Riddle. “He’s just a ghost, mate,” he said. The same satisfied smile stole over his face. “He can’t do anything, just yell and try to startle us. I don’t reckon he’s worth paying any attention to, the bastard.”
Riddle’s voice finally broke through the strange roaring in Harry’s ears. “What did you just call me? That’s rich coming from a blood traitor!”
“Yeah, fuck you too, snakeface,” Ron muttered, giving Riddle the bird.
Riddle was still there in the morning. Ron barely even seemed to notice, breezing around absently gathering his things together the way he always did in the morning. Harry couldn’t account for it, beyond a vague inkling that maybe this was one of the differences between entering the wizarding world at 11, and growing up in it from infancy.
Then again, perhaps it was easier for Ron to deal with Riddle’s ghost, because Ron wasn’t the obvious target of Riddle’s ire. That ‘pleasure’ was reserved for Harry, who had to deal with Riddle hovering an arm’s length away all morning, glowering silently at everything about him. He wasn’t able to take his usual shower, because Riddle followed him into the bathroom. He had only barely managed to do the toilet by throwing enough things through Riddle’s image and enlisting Ron’s aid to distract the Dark Lord into another yelling fit – something that Ron took to with more enthusiasm than Harry had ever expected.
He was grateful until he realized that he was going to have to walk through the common room to get out of the eighth year dorm. In the end, Ron had to play messenger and inform the current students of the room that a ghost was following Harry, and just ignore all the blood. Thankfully, Riddle didn’t say anything obnoxious or telling. He merely stalked after Harry, glaring at his back. Nobody looked too long at the ghost, and Harry could only assume, given the lack of shrieking, that none of them had seen enough to make the connection between ‘Voldemort’ and ‘the ghost haunting Harry’.
Riddle didn’t stop following him. He terrified a gaggle of first year Gryffindors to the far end of the table, while Harry buried himself in his porridge and tried to reassure himself that at least they hadn’t realized who this ghost was. Hermione halted in her tracks when she entered, but then recovered immediately. She too proceeded to act as if Riddle wasn’t even there, which Harry truly appreciated.
Together, the three of them easily fell into a pattern of acting as if there was merely some sort of distant ringing in their ears that required them to ask for clarifications on what somebody else had said, when Riddle’s attempts to insult them got too loud to completely ignore. Unfortunately, the ghost was obnoxious not only for constantly trying to get a rise out of Harry, but because he was loud. The longer they stayed, the more likely it was that Riddle would say something telling enough to indicate that he was Voldemort.
“Ron,” he muttered out the corner of his mouth as they left the Great Hall. “What do people do about being haunted?”
“Haunted?” Ron said, more loudly than Harry had hoped. Then again, maybe Riddle had heard him muttering, too, the git. “Er…”
“You can’t get rid of me, Potter. I’m not leaving you alone until you die.”
Harry ignored him.
“I have to look up some things,” Hermione said shortly. “Harry, you should go talk to Minerva, at least.”
“Oh, it’s Minerva now, is it?” said Ron. “Blimey, maybe I can call her Minerva too. D’you think she’d go for that? Since we killed Snakeface and all.”
“You didn’t – !”
Riddle was making that choking, keening noise again. Harry forced himself not to look, or to feel badly, though a great part of him felt as though he were going to be sick.
“I’ll let McGonagall know,” Harry allowed. “Can’t imagine how she wants to deal with it, though…” A thought crossed his mind, and he blanched in horror.
“Yes, Potter, you should be scared – ”
“Oh piss off, Voldemort!” Harry shoved an elbow towards Riddle, unmindful of the fact that it wouldn’t do much. He was expecting the icy chill that enveloped his elbow, almost draining the warmth from him – but he didn’t expect the strangled shriek that Riddle made.
Harry looked round. So did Hermione – Ron was still faced away, holding his hands over his ears and apparently concentrating rather hard on not listening to Riddle. The ghost was curled in on himself in the middle of the hallway, far more transparent than he had been all morning. His image was wobbling, as if he were a heat mirage, and his chest was leaking a silvery, pewter-charcoal substance that looked a bit like melted metal.
Harry got the distinct impression that he was in pain.
A couple of the first-years from breakfast were poking their heads around the corner, back the way the trio (plus one ghost) had come, clearly gaping. Harry really hoped they hadn’t heard him call Riddle Voldemort, but a glance at their faces told him that they probably had heard.
One of them met his eyes. Immediately, the firstie blanched and scuttled off. The rest followed, and Harry sighed. It would be all over the school within an hour, wouldn’t it?
In the meantime, Riddle had for some reason vanished into nothing more than a faint wisp. He was barely visible. Unclear on the next course of action – and Hermione wasn’t doing anything, just pointing her wand warily at the Dark Lord – Harry stepped forwards.
“Oi,” he tried, for lack of something better to say.
Riddle gave a strange jerk. It was again slightly inhuman, much like the insecty movements he’d made while falling through Harry’s bed two nights ago. His face was finally made visible, but this wasn’t much better. His eyes were white all over, if bloodshot, and his mouth was twisted up in pain. He staggered forwards, a hand reaching out towards Harry, but blindly – as if he couldn’t see anything.
“Is this normal ghost behavior?” Harry whispered to Hermione. She didn’t answer him.
While he was distracted, Riddle’s hand had finally managed to reach Harry. It dug into his chest, turning his blood to ice, and only then did the color seep back into Riddle’s form. His eyes were red and normal enough once again, and they snapped up to Harry’s face. For a second they stared at one another, Harry in shock, Riddle with something approaching dismay – another new expression on him, Harry thought.
Then he vanished.
“I’m going to the library,” Hermione said.
“Don’t we have class?” Harry said.
“Harry, I could already pass my NEWTs if I wanted to,” Hermione said, putting a hand to her hip. “I’m here because this is where our social circle is – not here to study. I’m going to the library. You go talk to McGonagall, before he comes back.”
Harry glanced down the hallway and gulped. “You think he’ll come back?”
“I suspect he’s anchored to you.” She pursed her lips. “I just need to look something up. Just – go talk to McGonagall. She’ll need to let at least the professors know.”
“Merlin’s tits,” Harry said, remembering the thought which had originally led him to shove Riddle. He grabbed Ron and shook him until the ginger stopped holding his hands over his ears. “Ron, you have to go warn Ginny about Riddle hanging around.”
Ron paled, and took off at a sprint. Harry followed him, ignoring Hermione’s cries of “Stop running!”, and split off to head for the headmaster’s – well, headmistress’ – office.
McGonagall was peering warily at a stack of paperwork when Harry burst in. A hex shot at him – he ducked, expecting it. “It’s just me!” he called from the ground.
She stood up to peer over the desk. “... Hello, Mr. Potter,” she said primly. “And why could you not knock?”
“I wanted to talk to you before he came back,” Harry mumbled. He hauled himself up and brushed a hand over his robes.
Harry put his head in his hands.
“I’m being haunted by a ghost,” he said. “At least, that’s what Ron and Hermione seem to think.” He considered all the things Riddle had been saying – at least, that he’d paid attention to. “The ghost seems to think so, too. Er. He’s got it out for me.”
Merlin, what an understatement.
McGonagall sat back down slowly, now peering warily at Harry instead of at her paperwork. “Who would haunt – ”
“Voldemort,” Harry blurted, just to get it over with. “It’s Voldemort’s ghost.”
They stared at one another.
“It’s weird though,” Harry continued, not knowing what else to do. “He looks like did when he was 15 or 16 or something. Not – er – snakey.”
“Not snakey,” McGonagall repeated frostily.
“Yeah. Got a nose,” Harry said firmly. “Only he also looks like he got dragged through a hay thresher. Like the Bloody Baron but worse. His eyes are still red though. I don’t think most people who saw him made the connection, except a couple of first-years were apparently following me and Ron and Hermione after breakfast, and I’m pretty sure they heard me call him Voldemort and tell him to piss off. So I’m sure at least half the school knows by now.”
McGonagall merely continued to peer at him.
“Just thought you ought to know, is all.”
Riddle didn’t reappear in person – in spirit? – all day. He was, however, present, in that Harry’s prediction was absolutely successful and then some. The whole school knew that Harry Potter was being haunted by the ghost of Voldemort. However, in the telling, it seemed he’d gone back to being his snakish self, if draped all in black so that he almost appeared like a dementor. A small part of Harry was almost looking forward to seeing some of the reactions when Riddle appeared again, because he felt quite certain that nobody would be expecting a lacerated, ichor-soaked 16 year old wearing a school uniform.
Draco nearly knocked him over when he returned to the eighth year common room after dinner. “Potter!” he yelled, grasping Harry by the shoulders. “Say it’s not true. Tell me the rumors are false!”
“Huh?” Harry said eloquently.
“The rumors, Potter!” Draco cried. He looked near to tears. “Tell me you’re not being haunted by the ghost of the – by Him.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “No, sorry. It’s true. He hasn’t been around all day, though, I think I scared him off.” He clapped Draco on the shoulder, ignoring the blonde’s shellshocked look of horror. “He’s just a ghost anyway. Throw a book through his head if he shows up or something, he hates that.”
The other occupants of the room were staring. Harry ignored them, wandering up to the room he shared with Ron and shouldering open the door.
Riddle was hovering in the middle of the room waiting for him, eyes fixed balefully on Harry as pewter blood leeched slowly from his form. Harry paused, half expecting something to happen, but nothing did. Finally, he grew tired of standing around and moved towards his desk. “Don’t you think this is all a tad anticlimactic?” he grouched. “We already had our dramatic final showdown. There’s no need to drag it out even further.”
“I despise you.”
“Don’t worry, all your Killing curses were very clear on the matter. I have no confusion whatsoever.”
“Potter. I am going to haunt you until the day you die, preferably early and by suicide. I am going to make you miserable. You’ll wish you had died by my hand, you wretched little brat!”
“Sounds fun,” Harry said. He pulled out his chair and sat backwards on it so he could cross his arms over the back. “How come you look 16? Or 15. I can’t tell.”
Riddle glowered at him silently.
“Okay. What happens if I elbow you again, then?”
He thought he saw a spark of panic in the ghost’s eyes. It was quickly smothered by a feigned sort of aloofness, but Harry felt certain he had seen it. His eyes narrowed a little.
“Nothing,” Riddle spat. “Nothing will happen.”
“That sounds like a lie, but okay,” Harry said. He didn’t really want to do it, anyway. The sight of the pale, shuddering, pain-wracked ghost in the hallway this morning had really put him off his anger towards the man. He wasn’t certain how he felt about this all. “So, what, you’re here to revenge-haunt me because you died?”
The strange keening noise returned for a bit, before vanishing again. Was the sound coming from Riddle? The Dark Lord’s face hadn’t moved, except to become even more set in stone than before, so Harry couldn’t tell one way or the other. “You – ” Riddle started.
Then he stopped.
Harry couldn’t tell if how pale he looked was merely because he was a pale sort of person, or because he was a ghost – or if it had something to do with fear. He considered that thought. Tom Riddle had been afraid of dying, so afraid that he’d torn up his own soul in order to preserve his existence should he ever be killed. But now he was actually dead, and not only that, a ghost. What caused ghosts to become ghosts? Had Riddle gone to a train station, too? Had he denied the train? Had anyone been there to meet him, or had he been alone, confused and panicked? For surely he would have panicked once he realized what had happened.
If he had even realized…
“You know you’re dead, right?” Harry said.
Riddle’s image splintered strangely, and the keening, teakettle noise returned again. Harry immediately felt rather guilty.
“No fuck you,” Riddle was hissing. Even the Parseltongue sounded lisped, snarled and wheezed nearly to the point of incomprehension. “No no no no fuck fuck no no, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not – ”
If he had been alive, Harry thought distantly, he would have been wheezing for breath. Perhaps unable to breathe at all. Panic could do that sometimes, he’d learned. The thought of Voldemort panicking wasn’t as foreign as it had once been, either. He remembered the visions right before the end, when Voldemort had realized the meaning of the Gringotts break-in. When he had murdered his own people in his panic, unable to keep Harry out any longer, Harry had felt that panic so deeply that he didn’t know he’d ever be able to forget it. The bone-deep grasp of existential terror wasn’t one he’d often felt before, so keenly. He’d always felt apart from himself when dangerous things happened. But he’d never before contemplated what Voldemort had contemplated, when Voldemort contemplated death.
“No no no no,” Riddle was still mumbling. His eyes were fading, more pink than red, as if some transparent film were creeping over them.
“Hey,” Harry said. Riddle didn’t answer – just kept mumbling.
Slowly, he got up from the chair. With quiet steps he walked over to Riddle’s ethereal form, moving carefully. Riddle didn’t notice him at all, or at least, he made no sign that he did. Harry hesitantly brushed a hand over his hair, allowing only his fingertips to touch the ghost, just to test what happened. It was cool, of course, and made him shiver. But Riddle didn’t give a strangled shriek the way he had when Harry had elbowed him.
“Hey,” he said again. “Riddle.”
“I can’t be I can’t be I can’t be – ”
“Tom,” Harry hissed.
Riddle’s eyes snapped back to red. His image slowly put itself a bit more together, though he still wavered at the edges.
“Fuck you,” he muttered. His voice was weak – scratchy, almost. Harry had never heard Riddle sound like that before. “Fuck you, I hate that name – ”
“I know,” Harry hissed.
He didn’t quite know what compelled him to do it. There was still the possibility that his touch would send Riddle back to that nearly-invisible state, yet Harry didn’t think about that at all as he took the final step closer to Riddle and pulled – pulled, how could he even do that? – the ghost into a hug. It felt like hugging a glacier, and the full-body shudder almost made Harry pull away, but he kept at it stubbornly.
He didn’t really know why. Somewhere in the back of his mind were reasons, stewing on a low simmer. Just a ghost. All he can really do is insult us. The terror that was nothingness. Until you die. And hadn’t Myrtle haunted Olive Hornby until she died? So by that logic…
Despite his comments about it being anticlimactic, Harry thought it almost made sense.
Riddle’s shivering had subsided, and his image finally seemed solid once again. There was ghostly blood on Harry’s tunic, but he figured that if this was how things were going to be, then he might as well get used to it.
(“Mate, why are you freezing?”