Author's Note: Please, please, please read and review!
"Where's your mum, Potter?" The boys around Dudley began laughing hysterically.
Where's your mum Potter? Your mum, Potter, w—
"Is she dead?"
Harry froze, jaw tightening in acute restraint.
"Is she dead?" Dudley jeered once more. "Is mummy d—"
He didn't even remember pulling out his wand. The next second, he had crossed the yards between them, and his wand was poised at his cousin's throat. Dudley immediately froze, Adam's apple bobbing under the blunt edge of Harry's wand. His friends quieted, the jeering laughs dying out abruptly in the abandoned playground.
"What the hell is he doing with that stick?" Harry heard someone mutter.
The swing creaked behind them.
"Y-you can't do this stuff outside of school," Dudley muttered nervously. His pasty skin paled even further as he darted frightened looks at his cousin's face.
"I'm not allowed to," Harry agreed readily. "But you know…everyone has a breaking point. And I guess this just happens to be mine."
He moved his wand and prepared to transfigure his only cousin into…ideally something small and without the capabilities of defending itself-except then the air around them suddenly became frigid.
"P-Potter!" Dudley yelled hoarsely as his friends fled, abandoning him in an attempt to escape something they knew instinctively to fear. "Stop it! Stop doing this—GET THAT THING AWAY FROM ME!"
"It's not me," Harry hissed, pulling his wand away from Dudley immediately.
"Stop it, Potter!" Dudley whimpered, batting away at invisible hands, "It's so cold…I can't…I can't feel…"
Harry's eyes widened with realization, because the numbness sweeping through his body was undeniably familiar now.
"Come on, Dudley," he encouraged, all previous ill feelings forgotten. "We need to run. Now."
And for some unknown reason—as he had never done so in the past—Dudley listened to Harry. Dudley began flat out sprinting, Harry himself following closely behind. They turned into a dark alley decorated with colorful graffiti, both realizing too late that it was a dead end.
"P-Potter." Dudley shuddered as he crumpled in on himself.
Harry watched with an incredulous expression as his cousin passed out. His mind struggled to catch up, to comprehend what was happening. Although torturous and mind-numbing—not to mention having to deal with the Dursleys—summer was supposed to be safe.
The first dementor appeared.
"Expecto Patronum!" A few wisps manifested.
The dementor was beginning to suck at Dudley's face.
"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" Harry screamed. He repeated the words over and over, a mantra, as the dementor neared. But he couldn't see anymore, because a terrible green light had flooded his vision.
Happy thoughts, Harry reminded himself desperately as the dementor approached him. Gritting his teeth, he forced images of Hermione and Ron into his head. But even as he continued whispering the saving words, no shining stag flew from his wand. All he could hear was Lily Potter screaming. The dementor came closer, drawing more energy from him, and Harry's legs collapsed beneath him. Hermione. Ron. Sirius. Hogwarts. Hermione. Ron. Sirius. Hogwarts. HermioneRonSiriusHogwarts—
"Expecto Patronum," Harry gasped, forcing himself to cling to those few words.
At last, the stag burst forth, boldly and triumphantly.
But Harry only had one, short moment to celebrate his belated victory. Brutal pain wracked through him, and his body contorted, twisting to escape the incredible agony. Hands—his hands–clenched tightly to the sides of his head.
Then his eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out.
Consciousness hit him with the same violence and abruptness unconsciousness had.
Harry cursed and then groaned in pain. He pushed himself up slowly and turned bleary eyes to his surroundings. Squinting upward, he raised his hand to rub his eyes. His vision cleared and he saw impossibly high bookshelves surrounding him.
His mouth slackened in shock. An unnerving thought occurred to him in the same moment: the sensation of his stilled hand on his face-a mindless gesture he had made countless times-suddenly felt inexplicably odd.
Pulling his hand away from his face, he examined it with unnerved eyes. It was...not the hand he was used to-there was no other way of putting it. His heart thudded painfully in his chest as he turned it this and way and that. Instead of the calloused, scarred hand he had grown used to seeing over so many years, the hand before him was-it was not his.
Springing up from the floor with energy fueled by panic, he hastily combed trembling alien hands through foreign robes, found a wand—a wand, also not his, but he didn't have time to think about that now—and conjured a mirror.
He looked at his reflection.
Dark almost black hair fell over a pale forehead, shadowing an angular, aristocratic face with high cheekbones and amber eyes gazed back at him. He had seen this face only once before in his life. Nevertheless, it was fair to say that it had left a lasting impression.
Pushing back from the mirror, he ignored his slipping robes and staggered out of the library. Looking blindly around him, he was unable to recognize anything about the place. How? How had this happened? This face…
Tom Riddle's face.
Harry stumbled into a corridor that overlooked what appeared to be acres of 'backyard'. Paying little mind to the robes, he hoisted them up and swung himself over the stone into grass and dirt. A piercing cry sounded behind him, and he jumped, pulled the foreign wand out in an instant.
The light from his wand landed on a full-fledged peacock, puffed and expansive, its feathers fully extended as it cried at him again in accusation. Harry tripped backward with a curse.
Where was he? How was he going to get back to Privet Drive?
Calm down, Harry told himself. Unsurprisingly, the command didn't work immediately. But slowly, after several deep intakes and releases of breath, he did achieve a state of relative calm in which he could think again. A temporary calm, at least. Harry knew that he had only postponed his break down until later.
"Think," Harry whispered to himself, the rain in the dirt beneath his knees sinking into his skin through the robes. "The last time I left…the last time—"
And, stunningly, that was all it took.
Harry hiked up his robes and walked along a mulch path that seemed to lead to the edge of the property. Squinting through the light drizzle, the pale moon highlighted from there what seemed to be the main road: a coppery, dirt path that stretched on for miles. Running towards it—and tripping over his own feet and robes in his haste—Harry raised his wand. He reached the wide dirt path just in time for an inconceivably narrow, towering blue bus to screech to a halt right in front of him.
A familiar bright light shined down on Harry as the door to the bus opened.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard," a nasal voice announced.
The acne-scarred pale face of Stan Shunpike stared down at him, suspicion on his face.
"Tell me, what does a nice-looking fellow like you have business at Malfoy Manor for?"
With one last wave, the terribly nostalgic image of Stan Shunpike faded to a haze as the Knight Bus zoomed away. Gritting his teeth, Harry greeted the cool air of Privet Drive with a wary expression.
After a moment of trepidation, he made his way to the fourth house on the street.
"Alohomora," Harry whispered, unlocking the front door with frightening ease. Shutting the door behind him, he silently moved through the house and crept up the stairs.
When he reached the top of the staircase, he approached the door at the end of the hall with slow, silent footsteps. Then, mustering the courage to turn the handle, he pushed it open swiftly.
For a moment, Harry joyfully considered the possibility that he was the only living being in that room. That, yes, he was in Voldemort's—Tom Riddle's—body, but the real Voldemort's soul—or mind, or consciousness, or whatever you wanted to call it—had been cast into the deepest pits of hell, leaving the Wizarding World mercifully You-Know-Who-Free. It was possible, wasn't it?
But then voice entreated him from the darkness. "So the boy-who-lived has deigned to drop by at last."
"Lumos," Harry whispered, and light filled the room. Dark green eyes looked out at Harry from under tousled black hair. A familiar face. Harry's face. And yet, somehow, this was also different from Harry's face. The features were all his, but suddenly everything seemed to take on...a different cast—harsher, harder, sharper.
Getting up, the man that was undoubtedly Tom Marvolo Riddle and the Dark Lord Voldemort surveyed him.
"Did you do this?" Harry demanded, fear and anger lending him a lack of patience. If this was to be some sort of messed up final showdown that Voldemort had orchestrated, he wanted to know now.
"What is it that you have done to my body?" Riddle murmured, his tone delicate-and it was 'Riddle' that Harry's mind unexpectedly proffered; somehow-'Voldemort' almost didn't seem right.
Harry didn't feel like he was standing across from the madman he had faced in the graveyard or in front of the Mirror of Erised, but instead-in this moment-the very same person who had seduced Ginny through mere words in a notebook-and Harry too.
(He remembered it all: the panic, the taste of salt and blood in his mouth, the sense of betrayal in that moment Tom Riddle had revealed everything in the Chamber of Secrets-)
Riddle circled him, his gaze roving across Harry.
"I didn't do anything." Harry growled. "It was like this. And-"
Silence met his words. Riddle's expression revealed nothing but a terrifying sense of egotism.
"I'm going to kill you," he finished lowly. The abrupt passion that shook through him was violent and all consuming, as startling and soul wrenching as a confession of love. And this, Harry realized, was his new method of breaking down: issuing ill-timed death threats to persons whom he currently had no chance of defeating.
"I'm going to kill you," Harry nevertheless found himself repeating. Riddle's mouth curved.
A loud crash sounded from below them.
Harry jerked away from Riddle, head turning towards the door. He tried to quiet his breathing as footsteps climbed up the stairs. Voices echoed carelessly off the walls as the trespassers neared.
Harry watched with trepidation as the lock to the door unclicked and the knob slowly began to turn. Riddle pulled out his wand—Harry's wand, he noted with silent rage—in a lightning quick motion. Harry followed suit quickly, pulling the foreign wand that felt oddly comfortable in his own hold from the folds of his robe.
The door opened.
"Lower your wands, boys, before you take someone's eye out," said a low, growling voice.
Light from the mysterious figure's wand lit up the room, revealing the grizzled, mismatched form of Alastor Moody.
"Mad-Eye," a female voice called from behind. The woman stepped to the fore, revealing a young witch with vivid hair, "there are two of them. Aren't we supposed to pick up only one?"
"Who is this, Harry?" a tall, ragged looking man asked Riddle. With shock, Harry realized that it was Lupin.
"Oh, he looks just like I thought he would!" the violet-haired witch chimed in.
"Harry—" Lupin began again.
"—Are you quite sure it's him, Remus?" the auror growled, "It'd be a nice lookout if we bring back some Death Eater impersonating him."
Harry gaze snapped to Mad Eye. He wanted to yell the truth out loud and would have except for something, perhaps pure gut instinct, kept him silent. Because Voldemort managing to defeat even some of the most renowned aurors singlehandedly was not as absurd of a thought to Harry as he might have wished. And Harry could not let more innocent people die for him. He needed time-he needed to figure all this out.
"What form does your Patronus take?" asked Lupin.
Harry watched as Riddle's face transformed. Sharp edges blurred skillfully into something softer, warmer, and seemingly more compliant. It looked more like Harry's face now, except that Harry knew better.
"A stag." the Dark Lord answered, his face so remarkably earnest. Harry leaned back. Had he managed to see the patronus before it dissipated?
"That's him, Mad-Eye," Lupin affirmed.
"Who's the other one, boy?" the auror interrogated, his magical eye spinning in its socket.
"He was the one who saved me from the dementor attack," Riddle lied smoothly.
"The ministry has sent the commands for a hearing to Dumbledore for the use of underage magic," Lupin stated quietly, "On your wand."
"I dropped it and he picked it up and cast the spell." Riddle explained, expression artfully earnest.
"Facing dementors takes great bravery," Lupin commented seriously, looking at Harry for the first time.
"And great power," Moody added suspiciously, "Who are you, boy?"
"Tom Gaunt," Riddle replied for him, flawlessly taking control of the situation again. Harry watched on with adrenaline pulsing through his palms and a sinking feeling in his chest. "He told me he was homeschooled because his mother was too poor to pay for Hogwarts. But she passed away recently, and he's homeless now. It's why he's staying with me. It was the least I could do in return for saving my life."
"There are those who get left behind," Moody grunted, "unfortunate truth of the matter. No matter now, you'll be coming with us."
"Thank you," Harry returned, his smile pained.
"Well, now, no more dilly-dallying," the auror snapped, "pack your things and come downstairs. We don't have all day for this."
The purple-haired witch rolled her eyes as he stormed down the stairs, followed by the rest. "Name's Tonks," she offered with a wink, "I'll help you pack your things up."
"No need," Riddle replied calmly, "my trunk is already packed." It was. Harry had packed his trunk even earlier this summer because he had been even more eager to get back to Hogwarts after a summer of little to no contact from both Ron and Hermione.
"Oh," the witch blinked. She opened her mouth to say something else, but then caught her reflection in the mirror. Her mouth twisted in disapproval.
"Is something the matter?" Riddle asked, his tone unfailingly polite. Harry felt like he was swallowing down bile. Tonks seemed to become even more enthusiastic with this attention.
"I just don't think purple's the right color for me," she replied with great concern. She closed her eyes with fierce concentration. After a couple of seconds, the violent shade of purple because a violent shade of bubblegum pink. She examined herself once more. "Much better. What d'you think?"
"I think they're waiting for us," Riddle intoned smoothly, "we should probably go down."
"Right," the auror replied with a bright smile. "Let's go." She led them down the stairs, and together, they exited the house and joined the others at the front lawn.
"Heard you liked flying by broom, Potter," Mad-Eye called to Riddle, "we'll be flying to our destination."
The grizzled auror handed them each a broom, and signaled for them to get into position. Silently, he raised his wand to the air, and let off two sparks.
After a short pause and a pointed look, he released the third spark. And they took off.