Author's Note: I had initially intended for this epilogue to be a series of short flashes, showing the months and years after Harry meets Ignotus. However, this turned out to be a bit too long, with 17k and going before I even reached the end of 1992, so instead I'll be posting those flashes as a separate story – for that, see "Following the Phoenix - Flashes" in My Stories under my pen name. Instead, I hope you enjoy this alternative epilogue!
Also note, for those who haven't seen it yet: there is a fanfiction of Following the Phoenix now. Yes, that's right: a fanfiction of a fanfiction of a fanfiction! It's not entirely consistent with the Epilogue, but that's only fair because it was posted months earlier! Look for EagleJarl's "Squiring the Phoenix", or just go straight to /s/11107471
Darkness...Drifting... Pain. The warmth of the sun on his face and a distant rustling – waves?
Consciousness returned slowly, like a gentle awakening after a long, long sleep. There was dizziness, along with a slight headache, but otherwise he felt quite comfortable. Except... there was something. Something important had happened... although he couldn't quite recall what, exactly...
Tom Riddle opened his eyes to a yellow-green sky.
Carefully, he sat up and looked around, taking in the area. He was on a beach of some kind, but it looked... well, alien. The sand was black, the water was far bluer than it had any right to be, and in the distance there were some red-brownish shapes that might be trees, but not any that he recognized. To his left stood a large gleaming building. This was not any place he had ever been before; of that, he was certain.
His reflection in the building, distorted though it was, showed a face he did remember: his own, but much younger than the last time he had seen it. He inspected his hands, his body. He was dressed in some outlandish clothing; long, wide trousers and a vest, but not a style he'd ever seen Muggles wear. His hands were well-formed and his flesh healthy, unmarred by the many disfigurements his magical experiments had given him later in life. The body felt natural, without the touch of glamors or the strain of a possessed body. And yet... something still felt just a little off...
"Hello Professor Riddle."
He almost jumped to his feet as his head snapped towards the source of the sound. On pure reflex he grabbed for his wand holster, but it wasn't there, so he stepped sideways, taking in a more tactical position and readying himself for combat. Only then did he register who had just appeared.
Before him, a short distance away from the building, stood a strong-looking man, not visibly holding a wand. A man seemingly in his twenties, with messy black hair and deep green eyes. A man whom, had he been a boy, Tom would have known.
"Harry Potter," he observed, as memories came flooding back to him. His plans, the war. The Dementor. He knew now, what must have happened. "You brought me back?"
"I promised I would," the young man said simply. "Although you might not remember that."
Tom narrowed his eyes at him. He did have some memories that must have happened after his death, or flashes of them. There had been conversations, primarily with the man before him. Most of it was a blur, but he remembered... feelings. The boy must have used the Resurrection Stone more than once on him. The Resurrection Stone which Tom had left him, as a final precaution in the event of his defeat, minuscule though the chance of needing it had seemed at the time, and near-negligible the chance that it would actually help.
If he had made me no promises, then I would never have consented to help him with any of his goals. And I'm sure I did help, at least sometimes.
"Perhaps I do."
Potter just nodded. "How are you feeling? Any pain?"
"A light headache and some dizziness," he admitted. There did not seem to be much reason to hide it, and right now, cooperation was likely to be a good idea. The boy, his killer, would not have done this if he did not have some kind of power over him, and he was no longer the gullible eleven-year-old he had once been.
Potter nodded again, as to himself. "That's a common problem. It usually passes in a few hours, though."
Usually. So he wasn't the first. Of course he wasn't.
"How long has it been, exactly?"
"Today it is nine hundred and twenty-three years, five months and seventeen days after you died."
Nine centuries. He took a deep breath, enjoying the feeling of air in his mouth. There would be a lot to learn. "And what is this place? We are not on earth, are we?"
"No, we're not. This is Meretseger Penal Colony."
The curiosity shattered as his blood temperature dropped to freezing point. "Penal colony?"
"Well yes. What exactly were you expecting? You killed and tortured quite a few people, that's not something I would ever have allowed you to get away with."
"So you brought me back just to punish me?" Oh, Potter would hurt. He didn't know quite how he would do it yet, but there would be a way. There was always a way.
"No," the man before him spoke with a sincere tone. "We brought you back to live. But that doesn't mean that there will be no consequences for past crimes. What is more, you are quite frankly a menace to society, and you will have to learn a different way of thinking. This place will help you adjust."
For this audacity you will suffer for years before I allow you to die. He clamped down on the impulse to lash out at the man. There was nothing to be gained by showing his anger.
"Such noble goals," he stated coldly, although retaining his outward calm. "You truly expect me to believe that your intentions towards me are benevolent?"
"No," Harry Potter shrugged. "I don't expect you to believe that. Not yet. Too much has happened between us for you to really think of me as a friend, and I don't think you ever understood friendship in the first place. But perhaps in time, you will."
His anger flared. It would be foolish to try killing Potter without understanding the full situation, but something had to die. He focused on a nearby stone, and started gathering his magic to –
Oh no. No no no no no.
Potter just stood there, a sad expression on his face as Tom reeled back in shock. "Were you planning to hurt me?"
"No," he ground out, as some of the anger drained from his blood and was replaced by sheer terror. "You took my magic?"
"The Dementor did," Harry answered. "But you were resurrected as a non-magical, yes. It's not as bad as you might think."
"Not as bad? Help me adjust? How could you resurrect me like this?!"
"You no longer need to fear death," Potter answered bluntly. "Nor torture, hunger or excessive misery, unless you break the most fundamental laws of the interstellar government. You will not be surrounded by idiots if you do not choose to be. Indeed, there will be ample chance for intelligent conversation, with greater minds than yourself if you so choose and they are willing to entertain you. You will have the opportunity to study and apply yourself to any field of your choice. Is this not what you desired?"
"No! I never desired to be a Muggle! Damn you, Potter, my magic is part of who I am!"
"It was part of who you were. Now, you will have to learn to live without it." The voice was firm, accepting no arguments, but then turned more gentle. "For now. You can get a new body, with magic, if you can afford to pay for an additional resurrection or are wiling to perform community duties using that magic. But not until you are released."
Ah. Stick and carrot. How elegant. Slowly, the red-hot rage retreated, leaving only crystal-cold clarity in its wake. The situation was agonizingly clear. Potter and his associates – whoever they were – were dominant, and they were intent on teaching him whatever lessons they had in store. The only sensible course of action was to take the slap, follow their little plans, and allow them to see what they desired to see. There was a bitter taste in his mouth; he had hoped never to have to do this again. But he could do it; for now, he would pretend to lose. His revenge would be all the sweeter for it later.
"Very well," he finally bit. "What are the terms of my incarceration?"
Harry looked at the face of his ancient friend/enemy as the seething anger dissipated, to be replaced by cold calculation. He could see it, the moment Tom Riddle decided to pretend to lose. He had known many such moments himself, over the course of his long life, more than enough to recognize the pattern of thinking in the one who first taught him to do so. Except that Harry had learned the original lesson Riddle's Sensei had tried to instill. He knew that he was imperfect, and that not every battle could be won; when the situation called for it, he could lose without planning a come-back. Riddle, Harry was sure – and Kahimari-Sensei agreed with him – never had learned that lesson.
He had no illusions: Voldemort was unquestionably evil. He would not lightly forgive Harry for the humiliation of being imprisoned like a common criminal. But there would be time. Voldemort would be imprisoned – and following an advanced social reformation course – for almost as long as he had lived in freedom, and in time he would almost certainly come to see that more could be gained by playing within the system than by trying to overpower it. Harry's Dark Side had mellowed; been turned to good. Its originator could do the same.
"Very well," Tom Riddle spoke at last. "What are the terms of my incarceration?"
Harry took a deep breath. "You will be confined to this island for fifty years –"
"Yes, but there will be both company and intellectual stimulation. For the company, you've got me. I'll come over every day in the first few months, then at least a few times a week for as long as you need me, both just for talking and to get you acquainted with the way the world works now."
A flash of anger crossed Riddle's face. "Don't you have anything better to do?"
"Plenty," Harry shrugged. "But I've made the time. Anyway, it's an official function. To avoid isolation, every prisoner has the right to a friend."
"I hardly think you count as a friend, Potter."
If only you knew, Harry thought grimly. What do you think would have happened if I hadn't spoken up on your behalf? Resurrection had been possible for well over five hundred years, and a routine procedure for almost four hundred. For a while, this had been used only for benevolent purposes, as Ignotus and Harry had been able to ensure socially responsible practices. But once their patents had expired, there was nothing they could do besides political pressure to stop the resurrection of history's villains for the purpose of revenge. Harry's influence had stretched just far enough to protect minor dictators and warlords. He had managed to save Voldemort by arguing his goal of preventing the destruction of the world, and illustrating that the man had indeed succeeded in halting the third world war before it began. There had been no way to stop what was done to Hitler, Grindelwald, Pot, Mao, Nero and quite a few others. Harry had waited and lobbied for centuries, until the judicial system had fully transformed to focus on reformation and reintegration, before he had proposed also bringing back the darker personages of times past and giving them a new chance at life.
But you are not ready to hear that yet. You will find out on your own eventually, when you start looking for it. It's all a matter of public record, after all.
He merely shrugged. "I suspect that I am the best friend you have. However, I suppose that since there is somewhat of a history between us –"
"Like you being directly responsible for my death?"
"For example. Or you killing my parents, having my best friend sent to Azkaban and then attempting to murder me."
"It was self-defense."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Including the parts about my parents and Hermione?"
"In a sense." There was even something resembling a brief smirk there. "And they got better, didn't they?"
"Eventually," Harry conceded. "Although my parents, at least, were not very happy with you for wrecking their lives. But yes, I have forgiven you for my personal grievances." He sighed at Riddle's dismissive look. "Even so, you do have reasonable cause to protest my presence and ask for a replacement. But unless you happen to have someone in mind who is licensed for the function, you will probably be assigned a professional therapist instead."
Riddle's face twitched. "I suppose you'll do."
"Thank you. Now, as for the material details... this island is yours for the term of your sentence. No one else can come here, but on the flip side, neither can you leave it."
"I cannot, or I am not supposed to?"
"Both, I hope. There's nothing on this planet but a bunch of scattered islands, and the water currents are such that even just trying to get to the next one would most likely see you killed. The entire planet combined does not have the resources, mundane or magical, to support leaving it, and it's heavily warded besides."
Tom Riddle frowned. "And, hypothetically, what would happen if I were to die?"
"Depends on how you die. If it happened in a misguided escape attempt, you would most likely be placed on a no-resurrect list. Future generations may choose to ignore that list, or just to use your soul as fuel for some sacrificial ritual. I would advice against finding out."
"Anyway," Harry continued, "this island is yours, and contains everything you need to survive – you will need to farm and mend your own clothing, but there are enough supplies to get you through the starting period and several bad winters."
Harry smirked inwardly as Riddle grimaced in distaste. Yes, Professor, you will have to learn to work as Muggles did during the time you grew up. I doubt you're ever going to like it, but it will do you a world of good to actually have to put in a bit of work to live, rather than chasing your ambitions while getting by on your magic.
"Besides that," he continued, "you have a computer – although it does not much resemble the early computers you used to have a passing familiarity with. You shouldn't have a problem handling it, though; plenty of wizards from our time and well before have managed it, even purebloods of well-below-average intelligence. The computer gives you access to a vast library of literature from all the ages and cultures, as well as training programs to learn how to live in the modern world."
"I suppose this is the intellectual stimulation of which you spoke?"
"Part of it. You will also be allowed access to the Internet, in a month or so once you've properly settled in. The Internet is, well... like a huge collection of worlds where the inconvenient rules of physics and magic don't need to apply. You can meet people there, debate politics or anything of your interest, you can access all the unrestricted knowledge of humanity, join scientific projects... A large part of most people's daily life takes place in the virtual universe. That's sort of a necessity, actually, with people living all over the physical universe – it's pretty costly, even with magic, to transport people over interstellar distances, but data is easy, so the people developed ways to simulate all kinds of physical interactions without having to actually leave your room."
Riddle raised an eyebrow. "And you would give me free access to that? This would seem to defeat the entire point of imprisonment."
"Well, social views of what punishment should entail have changed a bit. But you're right, it's not entirely free access; there will be restrictions and places which are closed to you or where you are denied anonymity. Also, most importantly, all your activities will be monitored by Mad-AI."
Riddle frowned. "Mad-AI?"
Harry grinned. "A portrait of Mad-Eye Moody, hooked up to a computer and linked to other portraits for advice. Basically Mad-Eye's personality but thinking a million times faster, which is able to avoid certain reasoning flaws Mad-Eye is prone to. He is aware of everything you do on the Internet – and certain aspects of your presence on the island for that matter."
"Including any communication I may have?" The ice dropped back into the voice.
"Yes," Harry admitted. "I'm afraid people in detention do not have the right to privacy. I am sorry about that, but at least nothing is passed to a human unless there is reason for concern."
Riddle scowled. "Will I at least have mental privacy?"
Spoke the greatest Legilimens of his time. "Mostly. Your mind will not be studied while you are here, but when the time of your release approaches, you will have to undergo strict testing to verify that you are safe to be released in society. That of course includes a complete examination of your mind by a human professional. They will be Obliviated afterwards, but they will point out any potential issues of concern first. And since I know you're wondering: yes, Muggles can practice Occlumency, but no, it won't help you as the use of Occlumency can be detected on a brain scan, which of course you will be exposed to during the examination."
Tom Riddle looked livid. "And what will happen if they find something 'of concern'?"
"That will be judged at the time by more specialized people than me," Harry shrugged. "It isn't really something you need to be worried about right now. There are many options. For example, you could be resurrected into a three-year-old body and Obliviated –"
"Not even if you get all your memories back on your thirtieth birthday?"
"Well, that won't happen unless you choose it, anyway. It worked very well for Albus, though – becoming a child again was what finally allowed him to heal and forgive himself for his mistakes. Although I suppose being raised alongside his original brother and sister also helped."
"I am not Dumbledore," Riddle hissed. "What happens if I refuse that?"
"I'm not sure, it doesn't come up very often. You might be assigned therapy, or killed until such time as humanity has evolved enough to figure out what to do with you, for example. But there really is no reason to assume that any of this will be needed."
"Truly? Do you so fully believe that you can change me? That I will let you?"
"Honestly, I don't think you need all that much changing – you mostly need to adjust. The world has changed, people have changed. The universe isn't what you used to know, and most of your old beliefs just don't apply anymore. You never truly sought power for yourself, and there are a lot more rational people around these days to achieve whatever goals you set in a constructive way. You have true immortality, once we solve the entropy problem – which, if the theoretical magicians are to be believed, should be doable well before it becomes an issue. And if you need a negative incentive against acting up, law enforcement is a lot more effective and run by some highly intelligent minds these days. Basically, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why you should be a menace to society once you understand how it works."
"Perhaps," Voldemort shrugged noncommittally. "But forgive me if I am not too enthusiastic about a system which has taken away my magic, freedom, privacy and control over my life, which insists on seeing my inner nature 'adjusted', and yet expects cooperation and gratitude."
"That's not quite –" Harry stopped. There was no point arguing. "It's fine, you have every right to be angry. But if you want a small point of light to look forward to, Salazar Slytherin is quite interested in meeting you. I'd be happy to introduce the two of you when you have Internet next month."
Riddle's eyes widened only slightly. There were a few moments of silence, before he spoke again, in a tone more detached than cold. "You know him, then?"
"Quite well. He is one of my earlier apprentices, and still a good friend. Usually we guide people into their new life by having them taught by someone they used to know in their first one – a grandchild, friend or student, typically – but it takes quite a while to get far down history that way, and Salazar was a bit of a special case due to his example function."
There was a longer silence after that, as Riddle's hostile look turned measuring.
"I'm over nine hundred years old, Professor," Harry said quietly. "I'm a scientist, teacher, politician and business owner. I have lived half a dozen lifetimes, adapting to constant changes in the world all the time. I'm not the child you used to know anymore."
"I can see that."
Harry smiled wanly.
"I think it's time for me to go. I'll be back tomorrow." He hesitated, then glanced upwards. "One more thing you might like to know... I realize the sky here isn't much to look at, but at night, you can see the stars. In winter, it's a near-perfect image."
"Whatever else you might feel," he spoke quietly. "There is still beauty in the world. Just... keep an open mind, okay?"
With a last look at the man before him, he canceled the hologram and closed the communication channel. He wasn't on the same planet, of course; he wasn't even in the same star system. Being physically near Riddle would not have been safe. Besides, he was needed where he was, in an intergalactic exploration vessel under Hermione's command, searching for signs of non-earthly life.
Several million light years away, Tom Riddle kept staring at the place where Harry had disappeared for a long time afterwards.
Sometimes, when this flawed world seems unusually hateful, I wonder whether there might be some other place, far away, where I should have been. I cannot seem to imagine what that place might be, and if I can't even imagine it then how can I believe it exists? And yet the universe is so very, very wide, and perhaps it might exist anyway? But the stars are so very, very far away. It would take a long, long time to get there, even if I knew the way. And I wonder what I would dream about, if I slept for a long, long time...
Author's Note: And that, truly, is where this story ends. I thank you all for reading. :)