“I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love,
you won’t be able to see beyond it.”
— Warsan Shire | “Backwards”
It is not so much a gift as it is a curse, no matter the description on the shiny foil packaging, no matter the vibrant clash of red and green or the burst of silver tinsel that comes with it. While presents from the Weasley twins are usually met with caution, there was not enough care in the world that could have saved Harry Potter this mess. Not even Fred or George could have predicted Harry would open his present on Christmas morning and vanish into thin air.
Though, perhaps vanish is not the proper word. It was more of a loud pop, like Apparition or perhaps gunfire, and a shower of sparks that left Harry Potter not in splendid warmth by the hearth in the Weasley home, but instead ankle deep in snow at the center of Diagon Alley, cradling a small silver orb about the size of a snitch in his palms and frowning as it stops humming.
Harry jerks about, blinking rapidly at the stout woman that stands before him. “Sorry. Am I--?”
“Spare a Sickle for an old lady?” she holds out a hand to Harry, long fingers wrinkled and stained. “It’s Christmas, you know.”
“Yes. Right. I—“ Harry is already patting his robes as the woman waits, fingers outstretched, expectant and shrewd.
“Move along, you hag.”
Harry goes still even as the old woman sneers over his shoulder at the man standing behind him. Harry knows that voice, has heard it whispering in his head too many times not to. The woman spits a number of curses at the pair of them before shuffling off, muttering to herself. Harry is tempted to beckon her back, to beg her back, but cannot make himself move to do so.
At his back, there is the sound of shuffling, of boots crunching in snow. Harry realizes he’s trembling only when the small, silver ball slips from his fingers and into the snow at his feet. The man at his back lets out a disgruntled noise, rounding Harry to crouch down and pluck the orb up. He frowns down at it, turning it over in his fingers, and hums at the engraving.
“To take you where you are most needed,” he reads, but Harry is too busy staring up at the man he killed over half a year ago. “What a load of rubbish. Is this a Zonko’s product?”
“Um.” Harry’s chest feels tight; the snow is clinging to his hair as it falls slowly overhead.
Glancing up, Tom Riddle smiles, charming and young, and offers the ball back to Harry. “Here.”
“Thank you,” Harry mumbles, taking it blindly, eyes never leaving Tom’s face.
“You’re quite welcome,” Tom nods, bright gaze flitting over Harry as he tucks his hands casually into his robes. “Say, do I know you? You look quite familiar, like I’ve met you somewhere before.”
Harry barks out a laugh then, nearly doubling over at the hysterity. In front of him, Tom shuffles back a step or two, lips pursing.
“Whether you’re mad or not, I don’t rightly enjoy being laughed at,” he sneers.
“No, no. Of course you don’t.” Harry waves a hand, half manic, and offers a smile. “Forgive me. I’m a bit out of sorts, and I think I might’ve landed in some kind of nightmare.”
“Well, yes. When you find yourself in the middle of Diagon Alley on Christmas Day with no other company than—than—than, well, your own cold driven madness, I’d say it’s a bit of a nightmare.”
Tom’s head tilts, eyes narrowing on Harry’s pale features before he nods, as if accepting Harry at his word. “Well, if you’ve no other place to be, perhaps you’d like to accompany me to the Leaky Cauldron. I’m sure the fire and a spot of food will do you some good.”
Another laugh catches in Harry’s throat, high and reedy, but he shrugs. “Of course. Why ever not?”
That’s how Harry finds himself seated at a table in the back of the Leaky Cauldron, sipping a drink that burns his tongue and throat on the way down, wondering just how he managed to get into this position, sitting across from the future Dark Lord, in the first place. He nurses his drink, mug warm in his hands, and quietly examines Tom as they wait for their food.
It is almost hard to believe that this man, only two years or so older than Harry, will become such a monster in the years to come. He’s still handsome now. Still young and charismatic; barely out of Hogwarts. Harry wonders if he’s already made his third horcrux or if he’s already tracking down his fourth and fifth.
Harry’s gaze strays to the newspaper Tom is skimming. He spots the date and sighs, shoulders heavy, hoping that this is some dreadful joke gone wrong. He certainly doesn’t want to be stuck in 1945 for the foreseeable future. His gaze drops more, to the ring glinting on Tom’s finger, and Harry nearly chokes when he recognizes the trophy for what it really is. Even from here he can hear it: Tom’s soul whispering to him from the gold the Resurrection Stone is set in.
He wants to laugh again. Some part of him, some dark part, wants to reach across the table and wrap his fingers around Tom’s throat. He doesn’t, but he wants to. Wants to save hundreds of lives. But he cannot imagine that is what he is there for.
“Are you quite alright?”
Harry’s eyes drag back up to Tom’s face, and he offers a weak smile. “Better. Thanks.”
His attention turns back to the newspaper. Harry licks his lips, setting his cup down between them, and straightens. He’s never been more thankful for the heat of his robes or the wool socks Molly had knit him. It takes the edge off of the cold still in his bones.
They sit in quiet for a while longer. Tom patient, and Harry unwilling to permit the older man the curiosity he is no doubt burning with. It is not every day someone appears in the middle of the street with no recollection of how they got there, after all.
“Why are you being so kind?” Harry finally asks, his own curiosity unsatisfied.
“It’s Christmas,” Tom shrugs with an air of innocent good tidings.
Harry’s eyes narrow behind his glasses. “And the old woman didn’t deserve a warm meal?”
Tom seems, for a moment, completely caught off guard. Harry is certain people don’t usually see past Tom’s amiable grin. “The old woman is out there begging every day. She’s hardly interesting.”
“And you think I am, Tom?” Harry asks skeptically.
Something a lot like satisfaction flares in Tom’s eyes, and he leans in sharply, voice low. “If I didn’t before, I certainly do now. I do not believe we made proper introductions.”
Harry very nearly kicks himself.
“Tom Riddle,” Tom says, holding out a hand across the table. “And you are?”
“None of your business,” Harry deadpans.
“Oh, come now, none of that nonsense.” Tom replies, tone pleasant like it’s a game, but there is something dangerous in his gaze. “I am buying you a meal, after all. Helping a wayward traveler get on his feet. I might even be persuaded into helping you find your way home, wherever that may be.”
“What makes you think I need your help?”
“I’m not an idiot,” Tom huffs, appearing quite put upon. “You know me, and yet I haven’t the faintest recollection of you. And when you appeared in the street, you seemed positively lost.”
“That does not mean I need your help,” Harry insists.
“No, but I am offering it.” Tom extends his hand again. “And at the very inexpensive price of a name.”
Harry eyes that hand. Eyes it and wonders if it will feel the way touching Voldemort always felt: wholly overwhelming.
Reaching across the table, Harry places his palm tentatively against Tom’s. There is a rush, a lot like touching a portkey as something tugs in Harry’s navel, but they do not move. He can tell that Tom feels it too by the way his pupils dilate. Fingers clench around Harry’s hand; he cannot help but feel he’s just made a deal with the devil.
“Harry,” he says.
He nods, throat tight, palm slick against Tom’s. “Just Harry.”
Something magic and strong snaps into place. In Harry’s pocket, a small silver ball hums for a moment, gears turning. In the next, it starts ticking.
“So tell me, just Harry, where is it that you’re from?”
“Godric’s Hollow,” Harry breathes as they step out into the cold of the dim Christmas day, snow falling slow overhead, getting caught in his lashes.
They had passed their meal in relative silence. Tom watched Harry eat, and Harry kept his eyes carefully down. He was unwilling to let Tom into his mind again after so long. Neither of them mentioned the agreement they’d made or what it might mean.
After they had finished, Tom looked at him for a long while before suggesting they head out for a walk. Harry hadn’t had the wherewithal to decline.
“Did you attend Hogwarts?” Tom asks, their feet crunching against fresh snow.
“I did,” Harry nods. “I do.”
“You’re a current student then?” Tom frowns down at him as they meander along. “I don’t recall ever seeing you there.”
“Why would you?” Harry rebuts, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his robes and touching his wand, if only to assure himself it is still there; a habit from war years he has yet to shake.
“Well, I was Head Boy during my time there,” Tom tells him, and Harry gets the distinct and disturbing feeling that Tom is attempting to impress him. “I would have noticed you.”
The notion makes Harry shudder. “I’m in Gryffindor. Half-blood. I doubt that if you did notice me, the memory would have lingered in your mind for long.”
Harry only stops when Tom falls back a few paces. Turning, he looks back to Tom, brows up. The older man is positively flummoxed, lips parted, gaze dubious. Harry quite likes the looks, and for the first time since his abrupt departure from the Weasley home—and possibly even his own time—hours previous, Harry feels on even ground.
He has always been good at stumping the Dark Lord.
“You?” Tom sneers. “A half-blood?”
“Why so shocked?”
“You can’t be. You’re too—“
“Powerful,” Tom admits with some level of difficulty, practically spitting the word. “I can—I can feel it. I felt it the moment you appeared.”
Harry is very near flattered. “You’re a half-blood.”
Tom’s wand is out before Harry can blink. Long fingers catch him by the scruff of his collar, dragging him by his robes from the sparsely peopled road to one of the empty alleys that branch off of it. Harry grunts as his back hits the brick wall of whatever shop Tom has squeezed them against, and he laughs when Tom points a wand in his face.
The set of Tom’s mouth is something akin to a snarl. Harry suddenly has no doubts Tom has already broken his soul a third time. The anger on his face is too raw for it to be otherwise. For a moment, Harry aches for him and the disaster that awaits the wizarding world.
“You would do well to keep your mouth shut about things you know not,” Tom hisses, casting a muffling charm over their persons.
“Or you’ll shut it for me?” Harry quips, but he is already pressing the tip of his own want to Tom’s side. “I assure you, you have tried and you will fail.”
Tom falters, eyes widening a fraction.
“Besides, I’m a lot less interesting without a mouth.”
Tom’s gaze searches Harry’s face. There is a press in Harry’s mind; a pressure. He instantly expels it and avoids direct eye contact. Neither of them are willing to relent and drop their wands.
“Who are you?”
“I told you: I’m just Harry.” Harry mutters, wincing as Tom’s wand digs in under his jaw. “And this is not exactly what I would consider helping. Which I do believe is what I purchased with that name. Don’t want to go back on a transaction like that, do we?”
“What harm would it do?” Tom replies shrewdly.
“You know as well as I do that something happened when we shook hands,” Harry huffs, a billow of heat fogging between them. “I’m not willing to admit it was an Unbreakable, but are you actually going to risk something going wrong?”
The flex of Tom’s jaw is arresting. Harry wonders how this man ever turns into a monster with red eyes.
“I do not like being kept in the dark, Harry.”
“Believe me, of that I am very much aware.” Harry snorts.
Tom takes a deep breath. “If I let you go, you will tell me what I want to know.”
“No,” Harry grins. “But I’ll tell you what I want you to know. And don’t even bother with the Imperius; it doesn’t work.”
Something in Tom’s face twitches. Harry feels strangely heady—with power, with knowledge.
“Fine,” Tom jerks back. “Tell me, then.”
Tucking his wand away, Harry adjusts his robes and smiles. “Well, Tom, I guess the easiest way to put it is that I’m from the future. If this isn’t all some wacky dream the twins cooked up. Which I’m still a quarter suspicious it might be.”
“The future,” Tom repeats, eyeing him a moment. “My future?”
“Well, one of them.” Harry’s head bobs, expression scrunching. “But I’ve never actually been very good at time things. I once saved my own life without realizing it, you see.”
Tom seems to digest this. Then, almost opposite of the threats and pandering for knowledge Harry expects, Tom fixes his own robes and gestures to the main road of Diagon Alley.
“I suppose that means you have no place to stay,” he says carefully as they step out, both wary of the other.
“I suppose it does.”
Tom hums, considering, and then smiles that charming smile of his. “You’ll stay with me, then.”
Before Harry can protest, Tom takes his arm and they Disapparate away with a soft crack.
Harry lets out a strained grunt on impact. If Tom didn’t have such a vice grip on his arm, Harry doesn’t doubt he would have fallen.
“You bastard,” Harry spits, anger twisting in him in a way he hasn’t felt in ages. “You could have splinched me.”
“Yes, but the point is that I didn’t.” Tom says decidedly, eyes alight with something Harry is too busy fighting nausea to contemplate. “Come on, then.”
He pulls Harry forward toward a short, wrought iron fence. Harry stumbles after him blindly for a moment, until they’re passed the gate and moving down a narrow path toward a secluded but lavish two story home. When he jerks away, Tom stops to look back at him. Harry looks between the house and Tom, and Tom waits, expectant.
Harry realizes, distantly, that Tom has essentially kidnapped him.
“Where are we?” Harry asks.
“Uxbridge,” Tom replies as if it’s obvious.
“Why are we in Uxbridge?”
“I live here. Really, Harry, try to keep up.”
Teeth grit, Harry pulls his wand free of his robes. He sends off a hex without a word, but Tom deflects with a laugh that’s tinged with disbelief, his eyes bright—perhaps in excitement at the prospect of someone being so unafraid of him or unimpressed with him that they would attempt to challenge him.
Head still swimming, Harry sends off another. Then another. Tom is just as quick in defending them off, their wands whipping in the air. As Harry shuffles forward, Tom moves back, giving ground until there is no more to give. When Tom casts a particularly harsh curse back at Harry, Harry ducks it rather than counter it, scooping up a fistful of snow and hurling it toward Tom’s face.
Taken aback, Tom falters, stumbling a step and giving Harry the perfect opening. He presses forward, wand swishing, and utters a soft flipendo that sends Tom sprawling into the snow. He lands with a grunt that Harry takes a great deal of pleasure in.
Slightly breathless, Harry draws close, wand still pointed at Tom’s chest. There is a sectumsempra lingering, bitter, at the back of his mouth. From the ground, Tom glares up, a flush high on his cheeks that Harry rightly reads as embarrassment. He takes a great deal of pleasure in that too.
“You’re fast,” Tom mutters, propping up onto his elbows, wavy fringe falling into his boyish face. “You going to kill me now?”
“Not for many years to come,” Harry says glibly, wand dropping before he steps over where Tom lay. “This your place then?”
Tom’s nostrils flare, and even with his back turned, Harry can sense Tom’s rage. “Yes.”
“It’s nice. Homier than I’d expect.” Harry tips his head up, taking in the brickwork, knowing that Tom undoubtedly wants to cast something nasty his way, but also aware that Tom’s curiosity burns brighter than his anger. “Oh, and Tom?”
“Yes,” Tom hisses, seething as he shoves to his feet.
“Warn me the next time you try and Side-Along me,” Harry glances back at him. “Or I won’t just use first year hexes.”
They’re inside by the time Tom finally manages to unlock his jaw. He’s been gritting his teeth in childish silence that Harry cannot help but find fitting in the young Dark Lord. He’s used to getting his way without consequence. If Harry can teach him anything while he’s here for however long, it will be that actions always have consequences.
Even if it takes seventeen years.
“Dawley!” Tom shouts, shrugging out of his robes.
The house elf pops into existence right in the foyer, blinking up at Tom slowly. He bows, old body shaking, and glances at Harry with beady eyes.
“Master has brought a guest.”
“Yes, master has. Get us some tea, would you?” Tom sneers, hanging his robs in a nearby closet with a flick of his wand, then looking to Harry expectantly.
Harry pulls his robes off, careful to keep hold of his wand and of the little ball that brought him here. The house elf clears his throat.
“Where would the master like to take his tea?” he asks.
“In the sitting room, by the fire.” Tom snaps. “Make it quick and stoke the fire while you’re at it. It’s bloody freezing.”
Harry chokes on a laugh, trying and failing to cover it up when Tom gives him a foul look. Tom is still wet from his gallivant in the snow. Lips pressed tight, Harry watches as the house elf eyes him again before bowing and vanishing the same way he came.
His focus, then, falls on Tom. “You have a house elf.”
“Yes. A gift from a friend, of sorts. Dreadful little creatures, but useful to have around.” Tom snaps his fingers, hand out for Harry’s robes.
Jaw ticking tight, Harry steps close, shoving his robes against Tom’s chest with a considerable amount of roughness. “And a good status symbol, I’m sure. For the pure bloods. Never mind that they’re living, breathing, feeling creatures.”
As Harry goes to pull away, Tom catches his wrist, a familiar snarl set on his handsome features. “I’ll have you know, I’ve killed for far less.”
“Believe me,” Harry’s face sets in a similar anger. “I am very aware of what you’re capable of, Tom Riddle.”
Tom’s eyes flit rapidly over Harry’s features, cataloguing them. He lets Harry go with reluctance, then gestures with his chin.
“The sitting room is just down the hall.”
Harry goes. He realizes that he’s shaking by the time he reaches the room. It takes him a second to gather himself, anger still like vitriol in his veins. He itches; something in him itches, scratching behind his eyes, and making his temples throb.
Shedding his glasses, Harry pinches the bridge of his nose. He has no idea how or why this has happened. He knows that, when he gets back, the first thing he’s going to do is hex the red out of Fred and George’s hair. Sighing, he shoves his glasses back on and looks about the room.
It’s not small but not vast like Harry expected. The walls are lined with books, and Harry gravitates toward them, wondering what the young Dark Lord read in his free time. There is a large couch and two wingbacks over by the fire, which filled the otherwise dim room with light. On a coffee table placed in front of the settee, there is a board of wizard chess pieces that looks well used.
Focus falling back to the shelves, Harry skims over the titles. He wonders, briefly, if he’ll find Tom’s diary on these shelves.
From behind him, Tom clears his throat. Harry turns, fingers dropping from the worn leather spine of a book. Tom is watching him, leaning in the threshold, hands tucked into the pockets of his trousers. He’s the epitome of casual charm. His sleeves are rolled up, his hair still disheveled, and Harry is struck by how absolutely normal Tom looks until he meets his eyes.
With the fire light dancing in them, he looks very much like the Lord Voldemort Harry grew to know so closely. For a second, he contemplates ending it all, right there, so that whatever futures lies ahead of this world, there will be no Voldemort there to tarnish it. Then Tom tilts his head, curious and human, and those thoughts are gone.
If this world is real, if this place is not a dream, Harry will do for Tom what no one else ever had. Harry will give him a chance to save himself.
“Have a seat,” Tom offers, and Harry moves over to one of the wingbacks by the fire.
Tom follows, taking the spot across from him. For a while, the light plays on their faces and the occasional crack is the only sound. Their tea arrives and they do not touch it.
“Where are you from?” Tom finally asks, an echo of an earlier question.
“When?” Tom clarifies, jaw clenching.
The breath in Tom leaves him all at once. “Why are you here?”
Harry opens his mouth, only to close it again. He pulls the small ball from his pocket, eyes drawn to the inscription and the seven moon waning across the surface.
“I was needed here,” Harry mutters, thumbing over the words with a frown.
“Why here?” Tom presses. “Why now?”
Harry blinks up at Tom, brow pinching. “Why were you in Diagon Alley today, Tom?”
“That’s not any of your business.”
“Then I cannot answer you.”
Tom looks away, fingers curling into the armrests of their chair. Harry waits. Watches.
“Outside, you implied that I… die.” Tom crosses his legs. “You kill me.”
Harry’s mouth twitches, his smile wry and sad. “Yes.”
Tom returns it with a bitter one of his own. “It won’t last.”
“It will,” Harry nods, a solemn sagaciousness about him. “I destroy all of your horcruxes too.”
The noise that follows is deafening.
In the wake of destruction, Harry sits patiently and waits for the tide to calm. By the time it does, the fire is out, the tea set shattered, and Tom is trembling across from him, the room around them nearly torn asunder.
Tom is livid, and having pushed to his feet in his fit of rage, glares down at Harry where the young man is sat. But beyond the anger there is a blind terror. Harry cannot bring himself to fault Tom for it.
Harry leans forward, frustrated, teeth bared. “You’re an egotistic bastard, Tom Riddle. You have and will find your own end in it.”
A wand levels at his face. Harry can see the curse, viridian and noxious, lingering on the tip of Tom’s tongue.
Tom hisses, as if struck. “Do not tempt me.”
“Do it, then.” Harry pushes to his feet, still a full head shorter than Tom. “It will not change what has already happened or what is to come.”
The wand wavers. Tom is still shaking. Still terrified. The snarl on his lips drops.
“I cannot die,” he insists, desperate in a way Harry has only seen him once, there at the very end.
“We all die, Tom. It’s just a part of living.”
The harsh set of Tom’s features returns. “Then I guess you’ve lived.”
The curse is just as green as the time before. And just as green as the time before that. It does not rebound, but it does not strike home. Instead, the weighty magic of their hands clasped tight in agreement snaps and sends them both flying.
Harry wakes to the sound of birds chirping and with a massive crick in his neck. He groans, shaking his head slowly as he pushes up from the floor, laying on top of a scattered mess of books and debris, and realizes the birdsong is actually just a high pitched ringing in his ears.
He blinks, vision blurred and glasses crooked. It takes him a long time to realize where he is and who the man across from him is. He does not bother to fumble for his wand as he slumps back against the oak floors. Tom echoes his groan with one of his own.
“You know,” Harry croaks, coughing at the pressure in his chest. “It actually gets old. The whole Killing Curse thing.”
Across the parlor, Tom grunts.
“Yeah,” Harry breathes, eyes drooping. “Me too.”