It's been a long time! If you don't remember the plot (totally understandable), I would suggest rereading the previous chapter, which begins with a brief summary up until that point.
Surprisingly—or, perhaps, not surprisingly at all—Parkinson recovered immediately.
"Little known fact, perhaps, but I am actually violently allergic to Gryffindors," she drawled. "So unless you want my death on your do-gooder conscience, Potter, I suggest you leave."
"Allergic? " Riddle echoed; his gaze slid lazily over to Harry. "Oh…I doubt that."
"Why are you here?" Harry demanded in a low tone.
The Dark Lord smiled and leaned toward him. "You said it yourself yesterday—you're special."
Harry kept his expression flat. "And you've finally seen the light."
"I've been awfully remiss toward you, haven't I?" he murmured, hand tightening on the nape of Harry's neck. "But you have my full attention now."
Harry's glare darted up immediately at those words and caught onto Riddle's gaze. Green, half-lidded eyes looked back at him.
"Your presence is about to cause a scene here, Potter," Zabini interrupted, words cloaked with characteristic indifference. He bit into another piece of toast and then look unconcernedly the other way, as though he really had no idea the boy in front of him was the Dark Lord.
Riddle smiled genially. "They'll acclimate."
Harry swallowed back a burst of inappropriate humor. Acclimate? He was asking the wrong group of people. As though summoned, a familiar, nasally voice huffed behind them, "What the hell is happening here?"
They turned to find Malfoy flanked by Nott, Crabbe, and Goyle.
"Get out, Potter," Malfoy bit out, straightening to his full height. "Or I'll force you out. Your choice."
"He would just have to bring the matter to Professor McGonagall's attention, then." Hermione stared down her nose at him, coming to stand at the edge of the table. Ron wore a disgruntled look beside her.
"Listen, mudblood—" Malfoy seethed. Harry's eyes widened with visceral rage.
"I think interhouse unity is a wonderful thing," Hermione interrupted staunchly, as though he had not spoken. "He has every right to be here, to sit with…Tom." Belying her words, however, she shot Harry himself a disapproving glace. Apparently, she still had her qualms about him.
"I'm sure you don't want to be an obstacle to interhouse unity," Ron echoed blandly. He shifted to look at Harry, features easing into something minutely more amiable. "How you doing, mate?"
"Good," Harry blinked, immediately disarmed. He stiffened when he felt Riddle's hand slide until his whole arm was resting over his shoulder.
He stood up abruptly in response, removing himself from the touch.
Riddle raised an eyebrow.
"We need to talk," Harry said, his tone as monotonous as he could make it.
The Dark Lord tilted his head to examine him. Then his hand snapped out and grabbed Harry's collar to pull back him in. Mocking eyes danced below him.
"Oh?" he murmured. "What about?" The words were too close, too quiet for others to hear.
Harry forced a polite smile onto his face. "Many things. For example," he smiled wider and forced himself closer to the Dark Lord, understanding that—like it had been with Parkinson—this too was a power play, "Dumbledore coming back. You think this sham is going to hold up then? I don't think so. And you're going to stay the fuck away from Ron and Hermione."
Riddle smirked. "When the time comes, I will allow you to choose the manner of your death, Harry Potter," he whispered. He palmed Harry's face. "Whether it's the killing curse or strangulation—whatever you choose, I will provide. And I will wrest…equal satisfaction from both. I promise you that."
The bell rang. Dimly, he became aware of other gazes on him, but he didn't care to deconstruct what they contained.
Harry's gaze flicked away from the Dark Lord as he swung his bag over his shoulder and left the hall.
(Before, he never could have imagined the Dark Lord kneeling, with a body between his legs, pressing down with all his weight on two hands to strangle the life out of someone. It was a strangely intimate way to be killed. A strangely intimate way to kill. For Riddle to bear the snarling and spittle and clawing of his victim as his victim sought to break free, a victim who would mark him as he exited the world—)
"You lost your temper."
Harry's face twitched as he returned to the present.
"You know the consequences—"
"Oh, lay off," Parkinson snapped from his other side. She cast muffliato as Professor Binns continued to drone on in the Slytherin and Ravenclaw populated classroom. "You know what that was, Zabini, and even if he had remained calm, nothing would have changed. It was already too late."
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked bluntly.
The brown-eyed girl shared a brief look with Zabini. "It's clear the Dark Lord's fixated on you," she announced finally.
"Really," Harry retorted sardonically. "What gave that away? When he killed my parents?"
"Except you're 'wearing' his face, now," Zabini spoke up suddenly, twisting his quill in his fingers as he gazed somewhere past them. His gaze wasn't focused. "It's natural to expect some abnormalities because of that. And yet…other behavior and facts…fail to add up."
"You're a mediwizard mind specialist now?" Parkinson rolled her eyes.
"You think your 'intuition' is better?" he sneered back. He paused, then leaned back. "Very well. Let's see whose reasoning makes more sense."
"Hm, a game?" She straightened slowly and flicked her hair back. "Well. I don't think it's Potter's new face. I think it's Potter himself. This morning? The Dark Lord didn't look at Potter like he's supposed to. Like—"
"Like what?" Harry interjected impatiently.
"Like someone he's spent decades trying to kill," Parkinson snapped. She paused, however. "No, that's not quite right. It's as if…he doesn't want to kill you, per se—he wants something else more instead."
"What else?" Zabini pressed.
"I don't know," Parkinson admitted. She released a trill and leaned back into her chair, smirking. "Your turn, genius."
"Well, if that's all you can 'intuit,' I'm going to begin by asking some questions," he prefaced calmly. She twisted her face mockingly in response.
Zabini turned his attention to Harry. "Does the Dark Lord, by any chance, strike you as…different? From your past interactions with him?"
Harry was taken aback by the question. "Why do you want to know?"
"Just answer the question."
"It's difficult to explain," Harry said curtly. He wasn't sure how much to reveal, even though both were essentially bound to secrecy—Zabini, because of the debt, and Parkinson because the former had actually made her perform a vow. With some hesitance, however, he eventually voiced something that had been brewing in him for some time now: "Ever since we switched, I guess he's seemed like…a much younger version of himself I…once met?"
"Excuse me?" Parkinson said incredulously, "A version—"
Zabini's gaze was wide as he waved her away. "I'm not concerned with how right now. Tell me more. When did you meet this…younger version?"
"Second year," Harry muttered, "I met the…'older version,' for the first time at the end of first year."
Zabini's attention was rapt on him. "And? How would you describe him? The one from first year."
"He was desperate...erratic. Which was maybe expected, given that he was attached to the back of someone's head—"
"Was it the 'older' version you encountered at the end of fourth year as well?"
"Yes." Harry paused. "He was…less desperate then."
But Zabini didn't seem to put much weight on this distinction. "Understandable. You were easily within his means to kill. He had just regained a body. But would you say he was less erratic?"
His first instinct was to say yes. The Voldemort in the graveyard had seemed considerably calmer than the one in front of the Mirror of Erised. But then…Voldemort had killed Cedric within seconds. And after that—Harry had had a definitive sense that Voldemort was one step away from murdering his own death eaters due to his anger at them.
"I'm not sure," he said finally.
"What about this younger version you met," Zabini questioned intently. "How would you describe him?"
"He was desperate too," Harry said softly, thinking back. "But…in a different way. He was…charming. Manipulative. He—at the beginning, I thought he was my friend."
Silence met those words. Harry shifted uncomfortably in his seat, somewhat angry now. "Don't look at me like that."
"Was he erratic?" Parkinson asked. She shot a challenging look at Zabini. "That was your next question, wasn't it?"
The other Slytherin rolled his eyes.
"No," Harry gritted out, eager for this conversation to end now. "He was—"
"Calculating," Zabini filled in, "Charismatic. Like he is now."
"…Yes," Harry finished, eyebrows raised questioning. "It's why I call him Riddle, you know, when I talk about him. That was what he went by…when he was younger."
Parkinson glanced at him, then Zabini, then back at Harry. Finally, she released a huge sigh and pointed an accusing finger Zabini's way. "Okay. Explain. What the hell does that mean?"
But there was an uncharacteristic look of frustration on Zabini's face. He put aside his quill and locked his fingers together.
"Get on with it," Harry grunted, nausea rolling through his stomach in sick anticipation.
Zabini straightened in his chair, nostrils flaring. "Almost sixteen years ago, the Dark Lord tried to kill a baby because he thought it was a threat to him. He wasn't concerned with formal politics and public favor. By all appearances, he lacked any propensity toward subtle manipulation or mimicking 'charming' behavior to pursue his ends, and sought instead other, more drastic methods of gathering power."
He paused, face twisting. "But now, suddenly, that seems to have changed?"
Parkinson scowled. "So th—"
"I agree with you about this morning," Zabini cut her off. "It didn't seem…the person who looked at you was not someone who would feel pressured to kill a baby out of paranoia. He was too confident; too self-assured."
"Like he was playing a game," Harry summarized, stiffening as Zabini's words seemed to align with his own impressions.
"Yes," Zabini agreed vehemently, eyes widening with slight surprise. "Exactly. Which seems, inexplicably, more like how you described this…'younger' version you met."
"That doesn't make sense," Parkinson said hoarsely. "How can a person's personality change so drastically like that? And are you saying he regressed?"
"As you aptly put before, I am not a mediwizard," he answered coldly. "The Dark Lord has clearly remained a malignant narcissist throughout, but—and here we reach the eternal question—was he born that way or made that way?"
"He's a psychopath," Parkinson scoffed. "Or a sociopath. One of those. Both."
"Those are muggle, aren't they," Harry recognized immediately, having specifically heard Uncle Vernon use the words to explain why he was at St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys.
"The human mind is a common area of study; terms have been borrowed," Zabini dismissed shortly. He returned to his original preoccupation immediately thereafter, "Psychopath, sociopath—those words are manifestly useless because no one seems to agree on their difference. It's more…efficient to realize, merely, that Voldemort and this 'Riddle' personality seem to have the markings of extraordinarily distinct…pathologies."
Silence reigned for a moment. "How do you know so much about this?" Harry asked bluntly, gaze narrowed.
A mean smile curled along Zabini's face as his gaze turned to the window.
Parkinson cocked her head to the side, suddenly bird-like. Her brown eyes looked too sharply at him. "Tell me, Zabini—can sociopaths and psychopaths…love?"
Harry would have thought him entirely unaffected by the question, if not for the way Zabini's eyebrow twitched.
"Planning on marrying one, Parkinson?" Zabini remarked dryly. "As it happens, there is in fact an existing theory that the ability to form emotional bonds distinguishes sociopaths from psychopaths; the same asserts that sociopaths alone ascribe to erratic, volatile behavior while psychopaths are more…fastidious in their planning. But, then, by those metrics, Riddle would be a psychopath and Voldemort would be a sociopath who could form emotional attachments. Which I hope we are all hardly inclined to accept."
His answer was remarkably indifferent—almost too didactic.
"Neatly concluded," Parkinson said peaceably. "Also: can sociopaths and psychopaths cry—"
"Enough," Harry butted in. She stopped immediately, eyes flying to his. He gazed back at her, unflinching.
For a moment, she looked like she would argue. But then, lips twisting, she pulled back. "So what?"
"Well, that part's simple, isn't it?" Harry answered shortly, bouncing his leg absentmindedly. "There's a difference between how you deal with a person struggling for survival and a person who's—doing something else."
Parkinson smiled slowly. "I see. So you have to make the Dark Lord fixate more on the game than necessarily his own safety."
None of them asked the more important question. How far was Harry willing to go to do just that?
The wind whistled through the leaves, a sibilant hiss through the otherwise quiet evening air. Harry leaned back against the knotted trunk and gazed blankly at the Great Lake. The surface was unperturbed, disguising with remarkable ease all that inhabited it.
He had a sense, from what he'd seen, of what Riddle's childhood had been. Harry had watched him—had felt the agony of it along with him, of being whipped when the Dark Lord couldn't have been more than a child. Riddle had killed the priest for it; and in that moment, when he had been forced to feel everything the other boy was feeling…
Did that mean that Harry, in the same situation, would have done the same?
No, some part of him answered strongly. Not like that.
Can sociopaths and psychopaths…love? Cry?
It was the final string.
Harry blinked, abruptly incredulous at the line of his own thinking. Could Riddle cry or love? How had Riddle become what he was now? How was any of that important? He had killed Harry's parents and countless others. Both 'Riddle' and 'Voldemort'—if they truly were distinct as Zabini suggested—had nevertheless both murdered people. He didn't need to be preoccupied with hypotheticals; he wasn't interested in redeeming Riddle's soul—
"There you are," a low voice reached his ears, a few feet behind him.
Harry scoffed to himself. He stood up, dusting off his robes. He turned and found the Dark Lord leaning against the opposite tree, decked in Harry's quidditch gear.
"How's that going for you, Tom," Harry said coldly. "Flying to team standards?"
"I don't need a broom to fly, Harry," Riddle responded conversationally. "Didn't you know?"
"I didn't," Harry admitted freely. The Dark Lord abandoned the tree and moved toward him. "I guess I'll just have to settle with the other things I've learned while I'm in your body."
"Hm," Riddle hummed. He stepped forward until Harry was backed against the tree. Harry fought to keep his face clear of emotion. "And what will you do about what I have learned from yours?"
The Dark Lord's gaze was dark, almost pitch black despite the light from castle and the moonlight. Harry watched stoically as he lifted his hand and twisted it in the strands of hair just above Harry's neck.
Narcissist. Harry tilted his head back with a smirk. "Do you really find yourself that pretty?"
Then, the strangest thing happened.
The Dark Lord shifted forward, until they were quite literally chest-to-chest, and he wrapped his arms around Harry—so tightly he could barely breathe. The hold was vice-like, imprisoning.
"What—" Harry hissed out, eyes wide.
The warmth of his hands burned through Harry's robes and into the small of his back.
"Poor, little Harry," Riddle whispered, holding him, "Only ever wishing to be wanted; so touch-starved, so eager for the smallest morsel of pity. You were a whore for this, and you still are, aren't you?"
Harry exhaled sharply, as though he had been punched.
And then he clenched his fist and actually did punch Tom Riddle, right in his smug face. The Dark Lord's head snapped to the side, a thin line of blood dripping down from the corner of his lip. But a second later, with raw, brutal power, it was Harry doubling over, gasping for breath.
Harry panted for a moment and then straightened, ignoring the piercing pain at his sternum.
He paused, however, when he felt his cheek begin to echo with a dull pain as well. For a long moment, he simply blinked, unable to connect the dots. When realization struck, his head snapped to Riddle.
The Dark Lord's gaze was slitted—and his hand positioned over his abdomen. Exactly where Harry had been punched.
"What the fuck," Harry muttered, staggering back.
Riddle's features were pale, his lips trembling with seeming rage. And for the first time, Harry actually felt he could buy into the Dark Lord's claim that he had had nothing to do with the switching of their bodies; there was no earthly way he would have allowed this.
The rage lingered only for a moment more, before it was quickly masked. Riddle cocked his head to the side, expression cool. Harry figured out why when his mind processed the sound of crunching leaves—footsteps.
To his left, behind them and just out of his peripheral vision, a figure appeared.
"My lord…D-Dumbledore has arrived."
Harry's eyes landed on a pale head of hair atop a paler face. Grey eyes determinedly did not look at him.
The Dark Lord's lips curved.
Harry's lips tightened, and he yanked his eyes away. Fucking Malfoy. Bastard had known all along.
In the end, they went together.
Not a word passed between them, indeed.
But Harry could sense Riddle's persisting anger, though hidden from his expression, the entire way.
They found the gargoyle, when they reached it, displaced to the left, leaving the stone staircase completely exposed. The taste of blood flooded Harry's mouth, an unsettling omen, as they made their way up the steps and opened the large brass door at the top.
The door swung open with an impressive clang to reveal Dumbledore behind his desk.
Riddle immediately sauntered into the room and slid onto a cushioned bench. Dumbledore gazed at the figure in front of him with slightly raised eyebrows. When his attention found its way to the remaining figure at the doorway, however, his entire demeanor changed.
The headmaster stood, back straightened to his full impressive height, and looked more ferocious than he had ever seen him.
"Good evening, Tom," Dumbledore said to Harry softly. "We have some matters to discuss, don't we?"
A full breath air gusted out of Harry's lungs. "Professor," Harry began, "This isn't—"
"He's not Tom," Riddle interrupted silkily, a slow smile spreading across his lips. "I am."
Dumbledore's attention returned to Riddle now. Harry saw the moment of realization pass over the older man's features. Then Dumbledore's gaze snapped again to Harry.
Harry's heart lurched in his chest as he somehow made his way further into the room on numb feet. "Yes, professor. I—"
"Come here, Harry," Riddle cut him off, a sudden, intense look on his face. He pointed to the small open space on the bench with arrogant imperiousness.
Harry stilled at that command, an incredulous laugh bursting from his lips. He swung his head to the Dark Lord. "And what are you going to do if I don't? Hurt me?"
Yes. That latest development.
Riddle's eyes glinted dangerously.
"This matter concerns only you and me," the headmaster argued firmly, ostensibly suppressing his confusion for later analysis. "Let him leave. This is not his fight."
But Riddle's wasn't paying him any attention. Harry surveyed the other boy coolly. A game, he remembered. Riddle was determined to prove to him that he had other ways of making him 'obey.'
Harry moved passed the Pensieve and the Sorting Hat and the towers of seeming, odd knick knacks to sit down on the bench. "Please," he told Riddle sardonically, "feel free to begin whenever you feel comfortable."
The Dark Lord stretched out his arm, slowly, knowingly, mockingly—it landed just behind Harry.
Dumbledore examined the both of them closely, blue eyes rapidly processing the scene before him. Eventually, the older man lowered himself into the large armchair behind the desk, gaze cryptic. "Grindelwald is in Britain."
Riddle inclined his head carelessly. Dumbledore's mouth thinned.
"In its current state, even in the most unlikely of circumstances that the ministry does not succumb to Grindelwald's forces, Britain emerges ruined with its population greatly depleted." He exhaled sharply, voice lowering. "If you are as you have professed yourself to be, even you must see this as an undesirable outcome—the 'unnecessary spilling' of magical blood."
"Don't try to disguise what is transpiring here, Dumbledore," Riddle said slowly, smirking. "You made a mess years ago, and now you are unable to fix it yourself."
Harry's hands tightened into fists at his sides. Dumbledore's face remained steely, but Harry could read the sadness in his gaze—he looked like he was in…What had happened during that war? (And why the hell did Binns teach History of Magic?) .
"What are your conditions," Dumbledore asked stonily, "to comply with an alliance?"
Riddle leaned back into the bench, by all appearances a mere deviant student uncaring of rebuke. "Merely two items, headmaster. First, my death eaters will provide aid under my command so long as no attempts are made to unmask them at any point."
"Granted," Dumbledore responded, unblinking.
"Second," Riddle continued nonchalantly, "I have equal weight as the ministry and yourself in any decision making, with the right to veto any decision as well."
"I cannot grant that," the headmaster responded almost immediately.
The Dark Lord sighed with mocking disappointment. "Why, headmaster, I think it's only fair once you ask for my 'help,' that I be able to choose how that 'help' is provided. Don't you think?"
"You know very well that the Ministry—with its current leadership—would never allow you that, even at its own expense," Dumbledore's words were cold, "Once again, Britain's ruin serves neither you nor anyone else, in the end. I would ask that you…reconsider."
"Very well. I am a merciful lord. I suppose I can generously amend my terms, in this one instance," Riddle said lightly. His expression was undeniably charming. "I will have equal decision-making power. And—"
Riddle's green eyes rolled lazily to rest on Harry. "And I will have him."
Harry abruptly felt the taste of blood he had sensed on the staircase return to his mouth. Dumbledore froze. "No."
Riddle leaned forward, green eyes bright with the threat of violence. "Either you accept and save Britain; or, its demise can rest on your conscience."
"And in fact," Riddle added after a short pause, gaze sliding slyly to Harry, "I believe the ultimate decision is not yours at all."
Harry strove to meet his gaze with implacable indifference.
"Harry—" Dumbledore protested strongly.
Riddle interrupted him uncaringly. "For the duration of the alliance, you will be at my side at all times, unless I allow you to be somewhere else. You will—"
"I will accept," Harry said, "if that is the only term."
When the Dark Lord raised an eyebrow in response, Harry did not allow himself to waver. Dumbledore wasn't quite in a position to strong arm him but—Riddle didn't really know what kind of person Harry was, didn't know that he was willing to offer himself over fully to protect innocent people like Dumbledore was, like any decent, respectable human being would do, because the Dark Lord was so fucking far from it.
"Very well," Riddle said after a short silence, green eyes narrowed.
Dumbledore was not satisfied. "You will swear that no harm will come to him."
Something in him ached sharply at the headmaster's tormented expression. "You don't have to worry about that, professor," Harry said softly, eyes locked onto Riddle's. "He won't hurt me. Will you, Tom?"
In retribution, Riddle's palm brushed slowly through Harry's hair, lips trembling only slightly with repressed rage.
"Of course not," he breathed, face a farce of tenderness. "I would sooner hurt myself."
Author's Note: HI! Thank you so, so, so much for reading! Please take a moment to review, because I really do read and appreciate every single one. They're exactly what keep me coming back to this story! Hope you enjoyed this chapter :)