Harry holds a small baby in his arms. Harry is astounded.
She’s tiny. Barely the size of an otter.
“You cannot be serious,” Ron grumbles.
“No one else will take her. And the few that will… Well, let’s say they aren’t exactly the wholesome type,” Hermione emphasises carefully.
Harry isn’t paying his best mates half a mind. The sleeping babe in his arms is incredible. She’s snoring softly, a little huff now and then. So quiet and strangely calm in his hold.
“Well, then drop her off at an orphanage,” Ron sighs, waving a hand vaguely before crossing his arms uncomfortably.
Harry’s head snaps up at that. “No,” he answers sharply. “No orphanages, no distant relatives. She’ll be moving in with me.”
Lord Voldemort’s only child. A three month old baby. Harry would have hardly believed it, if the little girl doesn’t have shockingly familiar, piercing grey eyes. She is as much Tom Riddle as she is Bellatrix Lestrange.
Harry should be training at the Auror Academy. Should be interfering with the Wizengamot as much as Hermione is, breathing down their necks as they write and pass new laws.
But Harry can’t. He’s stupefied. How could two horrid, repulsive, monstrous people create such a sweet little thing? Harry spends every waking moment (and even a fair few asleep) in her presence. It may be odd, for a boy of eighteen years to be a full time father. But Harry has a house, has wealth, has lived an entire lifetime of adventure. He should want to go out and date girls (Ginny) and sleep around and drink himself silly.
But he doesn’t want to. Instead, Harry adopts Aquila Altair Gaunt-Black.
“You are really going to name her that?” Ron complained. Hermione wisely kept her mouth shut.
“She’ll inherit three houses, Potter, Black, and Gaunt,” Harry shrugged, burping wee Qil. “It’s a constellation, it keeps in line with her heritage. Besides, aquila was a great eagle who carried lightning bolts for Zeus. I feel there’s imagery buried in there somewhere, with my lightning bolt scar and birds of prey and all that.”
Hermione purses her lips (Harry knows she’s intimately familiar with the difficulty that comes to a small girl who bears a frightfully unusual name) but she lets it go.
“Technically four names, if you count Lestrange,” Hermione says.
“I don’t,” Harry replies darkly.
“Why’d you think they never named her?” Ron asks speculatively.
“Because she was a biological backup, not a person, ” Harry answers distractedly, shifting Qil. “They would have gotten around to it eventually.
"Just a bit odd,” Ron says, shrugging. “Heirs are always named, straight away.”
“Voldemort and Bellatrix were hardly winning parents of the year,” Hermione replies crisply. “You wouldn’t believe the cesspit the squad found her in.”
Harry pointedly doesn’t think about Hermione’s words, crushing rising anger at the thought of anyone neglecting Qil, and holds her closer.
“Papa?” Qil asks, peeking over the white picket fence of No Twelve Grimmauld Place.
“Yes, darling?” Harry hums, licking his finger and turning a page slowly. It was a nice tradition of theirs, to share Sunday brunch in the gardens. Hermione had cast a gloriously genius climate charm in the whole area and it was contentedly warm and sunny in the yard, whilst a storm raged in London.
“Who?” Qil askes, turning and nibbling her thumb as she stands in the shadow of a stranger.
Harry hardly had a moment to look up before he is apparating directly before Qil, grabbing her and pulling her into his arms. Harry apparates into the house, slamming the wards down with ferocity.
Despite his honed senses from his blooming career as a Dark Wizard hunter, this protectiveness was pure parent, pure Harry - some instincts were simply innate.
When Harry peeked out the window, he saw a dark shadow just beyond the property line, edges blurry and looking rather lost. He couldn’t see them, but he was looking for them.
Harry flicked the curtains closed.
The strange shadow of a person returns unexpectedly and leaves just as quickly. Sometimes there, sometimes not. Always when Harry and Qil are alone, so Harry can not leave her behind in the safety of the wards and confront the strange, shadowy person lurking outside of their borders.
It could be a reporter. It could be a fan. Harry had heard it all, three years ago when he adopted Qil. The lies. The anger. The accusations. Harry refused to listen to any of it.
But there’s something about that shadowy figure. It’s not right, not quite human.
So Harry strengthens the house stone ward, asks Qil to wear a rune stone necklace (the little girl delighted by the eagle-shaped jewellery), and keeps an eye on the borders.
Harry is walking Qil to her daycare, a little private creche in Islington and only a ten minute walk from Grimmauld Place. Qil loves her teachers, loves her year mates. She is startlingly loving, for a child born from two hateful creatures.
Harry pauses, his senses tingling. He turns abruptly, picking up Qil with a flourish that has her giggling, and draws his wand. What he sees, his eyes cannot believe.
Tom Marvolo Riddle. Perhaps in his early twenties. He looks shockingly healthy, unbelievably alive in real flesh and bone.
“Harry,” Tom says, voice pitched low and smooth.
Harry is a nervous wreck. Tom Riddle is dead. Voldemort is dead.
Is it a hallucination? Is he going mad?
But no, Harry sought treatment that first year after the war, for his PTSD and then subsequent nerves over raising a child of his arch enemies. Harry wouldn’t have looked for help if it hadn’t been for Qil.
Harry’s scar tingles. The horcrux is dead, must be dead, but the imprint is there; it had lived in him for sixteen formative years, after all.
‘Where is your necklace?’ Harry asks Qil in Parseltongue, flexing the old gift curiously; he rarely practices the ancient language.
'Here, papa,’ Qil answers in Parseltongue, an effortless natural. She shows off her teddy, adorning her protective runed necklace. 'Samson is safe now too!’
Harry absentmindedly puts the necklace back on Qil despite her quiet protests, thinking about what he had seen that morning.
Voldemort is dead. Harry wasn’t hallucinating. It must be polyjuice, somehow. Or a terrifically strong glamour. The dark wizards he hunts on contract must be getting nervous. They’re trying to unhinge him. They had the audacity to try to corner him when he was with Qil.
Harry grins nastily. They had changed the playing field and they certainly wouldn’t be prepared nor pleased with the results.
Qil climbs into bed with Harry. He turns, pulled out of his light doze, and tugs her close. Her messy black hair settles under his chin, the little girl’s frame curled up in his. She’s cuddling Samson.
“Who was that man?” Qil asks quietly.
“A bad man,” Harry replies. He doesn’t want to frighten her, but he won’t lie to her. Qil knows she’s adopted, knows Harry is her papa but not her father. Dumbeldore may have been a great wizard, but he was not a great man; Harry vowed to never withhold anything from Qil. “If you see him again, hold your necklace and say the special word.”
“Will he come back?” Qil asks, wriggling around until she’s facing Harry in the early light of dawn.
“I don’t know. But I’ll protect you,” Harry promises.
Qil smiles, serene and sure. “I know you will, papa.”
Harry wishes he had the self-assured confidence of Qil. To look at someone, an adult and authority figure, and just know they will protect you to the ends of the earth. It warms his heart that he has become this for Qil. Like he’s broken a cycle of abuse.
“He looks like you and like me,” Qil says, reaching forward and playing with a lock of Harry’s hair.
Harry feels the breath die in his lungs. This is one of those moments that he’s not sure if he should tell her, if she’s old enough. It’s hard to know how she’ll take it, until after he tells her.
“That’s because it is someone dressing up to look like your daddy, like how Aunty Ginny dressed up as one of the Weird Sisters for Halloween,” Harry says at last, strained. “But it’s not your daddy. He passed away a long time ago. Do you know how to tell if someone is your papa or daddy?” Harry teases, tapping her nose.
“How, papa?” Qil asks, eyes wide.
‘Like this,’ Harry answers in Parseltongue, smiling at her softly. 'Just think of a snake, like your pet Bee, and ask them a question. If it’s me or daddy, we’d be the only ones able to respond.’
'Bee ate a grasshopper!’ Qil suddenly said, babbling excitedly. 'And she made such an icky face when she did!’
Harry smiles at his daughter, hugging her close as she squealed. How easy it was, to be four without a care in the world.
Harry freezes, eyes wide. He is in an alley, cutting through to the shops, and his back is turned to the man. The hair on the nape of Harry’s neck rises. He immediately thinks of Qil and is relieved when he remembers he’s dropped her at her creche, the building protected by a Fidelius.
Harry turns slowly, steeling his nerves. Unsurprisingly, the dark wizard is once more hiding behind the Tom Riddle facade. Harry coolly glares at the wizard, several metres between them.
“This, what you’re doing,” Harry says, gesturing at his face, “Is embarrassing. Face me as yourself or don’t even bother.”
Tom’s face tilts to the side, contemplative. “You do not think I am who I am. You think I am a fraud.”
“A fraud,” Harry repeats, a humourless laugh bursting through his lips. “Sure. A psychopath, maybe. Pathetic? Definitely.”
“I am Tom Marvolo Riddle,” the imposter says. He is a remarkable actor, at least. His clipped, posh accent and frosty tone and suave stance give no impression of falsehood or discomfort. He is alarmingly handsome and confident. To the point of excess. His flinty grey eyes stare at Harry with chilled annoyance. He is the visage of a young, elitist, burgeoning Dark Lord.
It is an infuriating act.
“I have no time for this. You were clearly the creep standing at my house wards. You cornered me in front of my daughter. You brought my family into this. I will end you,” Harry says simply. He’s not angry. There’s a whining pitch in his ear, a strange rush in his blood, a tingling in his fingers. But he’s not angry.
“You mean my daughter.” The imposter replies, a sneer spreading across his lips.
Despite his best attempts, Harry became instantly furious.
Harry is in the imposter’s face before he can breathe, his blood pressure sky-rocketing so quickly he momentarily blacks out for less than a fraction of a second, blood rushing with adrenaline, his sight tunnelling and he’s running on pure instinct. Harry’s baring his teeth at Tom’s face, shoving himself into the man’s space, so breathlessly annoyed that he’s a good head shorter than this imposter.
Tom Riddle does not move. In fact, he merely looks vaguely amused, in a patronising, unflinching way. It’s as if Harry is a little creature yapping at his ankles. It burns Harry through and through, bile tasting at the back of his throat.
“Bomba-,” Harry begins to spit, jaw clenched, mind blank with hate.
The imposter moves so quickly Harry is left breathless. He’s slammed against the side of the alley into a brick wall, his wand dropping as his wrist is wrenched, face and chest plastered uncomfortably into the brick as his arm is twisted behind him. Harry’s glasses have fallen off and he’s momentarily disoriented, unused to being manhandled.
“That would be a mistake,” the imposter hisses in his ear. His touch is surprisingly warm and Harry grits out a bitter grin, blood dripping down his chin from a split bottom lip.
“Impedia,” Harry replies scathingly.
The imposter’s grip weakens and Harry bucks, shoving off the wall and throwing a vicious clipped right hook. The hit strikes true and Harry laughs breathlessly when his knuckles connect, grey eyes suddenly wide in surprise, and the man crashes back.
Harry pounces and then he’s tangling with the imposter, yanking hair and scratching and deflecting punches. His blood is roaring in his ears, heart pounding, magic whispering from his lips-
'Fuck,’ Tom hisses and Harry barely registers the word but when he does, he freezes. Unfortunately for Harry, a thrown punch is missed and Harry releases a weak cry as it connects with his jaw.
'Stop,’ Harry commands, head snapping back to glare at Tom hovering over him. Harry’s covered in grit from the alley and hurting and his jaw is swollen. But then he’s reeling, processing their interaction.
'How do you still speak-’ Tom begins, cutting off abruptly.
“Who the hell are you?” Harry says, stunned. He’s laying on filthy, cold cobblestones, staring up at the silhouette of Tom Riddle on his hands and knees above him.
“I am Lord Voldemort,” the man says.
For the first time, Harry believes it.
Harry disapparates the moment he gathers himself. He’s never been one to run from a fight, not ever, but he simply cannot help himself.
It is too much.
Harry sits in the Black family library, curtains pulled shut and room shadowed to near darkness. Harry’s skin tingles, his mind burns. He’s been sitting here for hours.
He will need to go collect Qil soon. Harry cannot handle the idea of telling her. And yet he must.
… But he mustn’t. She’s four, for Merlin’s sake. What could he possibly say? Oh yes, darling, do you remember your daddy that I told you about? Well, he was a horribly evil dark wizard who attempted to kill papa several times and the last time he tried, he finally murdered papa. But then papa miraculously woke up and ended up killing daddy by mistake. And well, wouldn’t you know? He’s back! But we must stay away from him because he wants to kill papa again, and then probably you.
Yes, that would go over like a summer dream.
Harry’s skin tingles horrifically. There’s goosebumps fleshing across his skin. The memory of Tom Riddle burns his mind. The flinty grey eyes. The sharp jawline. The smooth, curling black hair.
Gods, he looks like Qil. Somehow, all of Tom Riddle’s genes appeared to be dominate – to no surprise. Qil did display some Black traits, but she was clearly and wholly Riddle.
Harry’s heart aches. Merlin, he’s going to have to return to his previous life. Chasing the remaining horcruxes (how could there possibly be more, for Godric’s fucking sake) and hiding in forests and living a life of crime. How can he bring Qil along? He’s going to have to leave her behind. What if Voldemort is here for Qil?
The thought douses Harry in cold water. He nearly vomits but suppresses the urge by a near margin.
He could go into hiding, like his parents. Hiding a wee toddler from a demonic Dark Lord. But everyone knew how that story went.
Harry is petrified. Stuck between a hard place (Voldemort finding him again) and a rock (disrupting the stable life of a toddler and going on the run). He can’t think. Suddenly, for the first time, Harry understands, wholly, what his parents experienced. And somehow, he knows even more than them. They thrice defied the Dark Lord – Harry had lived a life haunted by him. Harry feels suffocated, trapped.
He doesn’t know what to do.
“You are very sad, papa,” Qil comments.
Harry looks up from his book and blinks at Qil in surprise. It’s been a week since he’s last seen Tom Riddle. With Qil collected from her daycare and kept within the house wards since, he’s been trying his best to put on a brave face. Obviously, not well enough.
“I’m not sad, little bird,” Harry replies, smiling at her warmly. He puts down his book and crosses the library, picking her up and settling into the chair. Qil holds him tightly, bundled into his lap and a furnace of warmth.
“You are,” Qil counters, nestling into his neck. “Papa is sad.”
Harry bites his bottom lip. Qil isn’t quite able to understand all emotions yet, as she’s only four. He might be sad, but he’s mostly terrified. He’s tried so hard to keep himself chipper, but Qil was an unusually intelligent, perceptive child. Like her father, Harry supposes.
“Would you like me to tell you a story?” Qil asks.
Harry grins down at her, amusement warming his heart. “I would love a story. What would you like to tell me tonight?”
“Beauty and the Beast,” Qil informs him very seriously, pulling away and looking Harry in the eye.
“Alright, go on, then,” Harry says, gesturing for her to begin.
“Once upon a time,” Qil starts.
“Ah, yes, a true fairytale start,” Harry adds wisely. At a firm glare from Qil, he shuts his mouth and nods for her to continue.
“There was a handsome prince,” Qil continues, sniffing huffily. “But he was really, really rude. A witch came to his fancy party one night and cursed him to be very ugly. For a really long time, the prince was all alone. But then! One night a really nice farm girl got lost and found the castle and became best friends with the prince, even though he was very ugly. The prince was scared she would run away because he was so ugly, so he forced her to stay.
“They fell in love because he was nice and kind to her. After a long time, the farm lady realised that she was in love. Then she went home to say goodbye to her family, because she decided to marry the prince. But the prince thought she left forever and was really sad. He decided he was going to kill himself, because he was so ugly. But then! Just before he did, the farm girl returned and gave him a great big kiss. And the prince turned back into a beautiful boy and they lived Happily Ever After,” Qil ended sagely.
“That… Is an interesting story,” Harry said, a little disturbed at a child’s version of the tale. It was fairly close to the original, but… Strange, hearing it from Qil’s point of view.
“It’s like daddy and papa,” Qil said, weaving her fingers together over her chest contentedly.
“Excuse me?” Harry asked, eyes wide.
“Papa was like the nice farm girl who fell in love with daddy. Daddy was the mean prince who was ugly but turned into a handsome prince when papa fell in love with him,” Qil replied, eyes closing as she began to doze in the warmth of the fire.
“How – how do you suppose?” Harry questioned gently, trying to keep his hysteria to a minimum.
“Because daddy told me so,” Qil answered softly and then, in the moment between breaths, she was asleep.
Harry felt untethered for a moment. Floundering, he decided to carry Qil to bed, settling her into the lush sheets, and he returned to the library to think.
Harry floo’d Qil to her creche in the morning. She was rather bitter about it, as she hated floo travel (Harry could relate), but she was comforted by being allowed to take Samson. A wonderful daycare teacher, a kind woman with soft eyes, came through the floo to collect her and take her back through.
Harry grit his teeth, raised his jaw, and stepped outside of the house wards.
Unsurprisingly, Tom Riddle stood on the other side.
“You took your time,” Tom stated coldly.
“What have you been telling Qil?” Harry snapped, at the end of his tether. “When the hell did you have time to speak to her?”
“Qil?” Tom repeated, eyebrows bowing.
“My daughter,” Harry clarified, attempting to suppress a sneer.
“Ah, you mean Aquila,” Tom answered, eyebrows now raising imperiously.
“I named her, I know what I meant,” Harry spits back.
This new version of Voldemort is infuriating.
“I am ashamed my older self was too insane to name my own child,” Tom says abruptly.
Harry immediately feels uneasy. Unstoppered. As if he were a brittle bottle and could smash at any moment.
“At the final battle you left her alone, in a dungeon, with nothing more than tortured screams,” Harry says slowly. “I suppose she was not important to you, but she is important to me. I don’t know what horcruxes you’ve got remaining, but I am asking you for a cease. An impasse. Anything.” Harry hates to beg. He hasn’t since he was a child. But, for Qil, he’ll do anything. “Leave us alone and I will leave you alone. To do what you need to do. I don’t care anymore.”
“I am not here to hurt her,” Tom says. “I am here because of her.”
Harry’s world tilts, suddenly. He feels the epiphany before it properly hits him.
“Qil is your horcrux,” Harry breathes.
“She was born for that purpose, yes,” Tom concedes. “However, that is not why I am here. My other self put his final remaining horcrux in her. It was originally hidden in something meaningless, worthless, before I turned the diadem into a horcrux. A teapot, if you can believe. At the end of the war, I realised you were destroying my remaining horcruxes. I decided to put it into something you could never kill: a child.”
Harry feels as if the entire world has turned upside down. He feels hollow. He feels destroyed.
“I love her,” Harry whispers, broken.
“I know. That is the only reason I am here,” Tom says, stepping forward until he is in Harry’s personal space. Harry is too empty to care, to flinch. “Because you loved her with everything in your heart. You gave the final remaining horcrux life. Every untethered, unanchored soul shard bound together, united under one horcrux. Your affection gave me flesh, your adoration gave me blood, your love gave me life. All the remaining parts of me that existed on this mortal plane – they came together, to form me.”
Tom is lifting his hands and, for all Harry cares, the monster could strike him down now. But Tom is cupping his face, grey eyes suddenly light like a sky after a storm. His expression is lost, lonely, but warm.
“She is my everything,” Harry admits into the quiet between them. “Don’t take her away.”
“I would never,” Tom replies, a soft smile playing across his features. Distantly, Harry is aware how wicked that smile is, how handsome and heart breaking and completely and utterly Tom Riddle.
“I love her,” Harry whispers once more.
“And you will love me,” Tom answers. Tom’s face is tilting close, lips brushing against his. Harry feels something lost and broken fluttering gently. “My two human horcruxes, together.”
“I’m not a horcrux anymore,” Harry says weakly.
“I thought that too. And yet, you speak our language. Your soul calls out to me. A horcrux cannot be destroyed, unless the container is as well. It might be tiny, it might be just an imprint, but it’s alive,” Tom breathes. “And you gave me life.”
Harry doesn’t know what’s come over him. The touch on his face is gentle but it stings, electric, his heart pounding in his ear. Something draws him forward and he closes the gap, pressing his lips against Tom’s. In that moment, Harry’s mind is obliterated, his soul singing out and it’s glorious, the soft burn and extinguishing revelation between them.
“You will love me,” Tom repeats when he pulls back, pressing his forehead against Harry’s scarred own.
“I think I already do,” Harry says.
“Daddy!” Qil screams, racing through the house like a demented woman with hellhounds nipping at her heels.
Harry cackles, chasing after her with wriggling fingers. “The tickles!” Harry crows.
Tom appears at the base of the stairs in the moment after Qil leaps off the top step, catching her effortlessly. Harry had nearly had a coronary the first time she’d done it, but somehow Tom was always there, always ready to catch her.
Harry thunders down the stairs and Qil screams in Tom’s ear, making him flinch from the pitch. Harry crashes into them, arms wrapping into a hug.
“Perhaps you’ve had enough winding her up,” Tom states dryly.
“Perhaps Qil is in need of more tickles,” Harry mocks Tom’s tone, sending her a haughty expression.
“No, papa,” Qil states, turning to glare at Harry firmly.
“As you wish,” Harry concedes at her serious tone, splaying his hands in the air to show armistice.
Tom lets Qil down and then he’s wrapping his arms around Harry’s waist, pulling him close, and Harry squawks when he’s bent backward and finds himself in a passionate kiss. Long fingers tangle in his hair and Harry sighs, pressing back into Tom’s kiss. It’s hauntingly right, every part of Harry’s soul bright and whole each time Tom touches him. Harry doesn’t think about the repercussions, doesn’t think about horcruxes and Dark Lords. He just thinks about Tom.
“Gross,” Qil comments, wandering away.
“Gross,” Harry repeats, once Tom gives him air to breathe.
“Shut up,” Tom replies, going in for another kiss, a smug grin quirking his lips and victory in the crease of his eyes.