Noun. It was a term relating to Christianity, ecclesiastical terms, sometimes written with a capital - Yule. Literary, archaic or dialect. The word came from the Old English 'geola', which originally was the name of a pagan feast lasting 12 days, often the period extending from December 24th to January 6th.
In other words; it was Christmas.
"Where's your Christmas spirit, Tom?" Professor Slughorn asked, clapping Tom on the shoulders. He was certainly taking advantage of the season, Tom noted dully. The Potions Master was decked in a truly horrific red-and-green holly-print robe.
"It disappeared, sir," Tom replied through gritted teeth. "At about the same time you told me I had to go back to the orphanage for the Winter Solstice."
His professor patted his back sympathetically, offering platitudes about 'the search for Slytherin's monster' and 'it can't be that bad.' Tom had been tense since the first contact, but he bore it with extreme patience, in the same way he tolerated the use of his common first name. Professor Slughorn had meant well by it, he told himself. He has never hurt you, and he remains useful.
It didn't stop him from wanting to wrench himself away, it didn't stop the immediate vision of acid dripping from Slughorn's hands that flashed across his vision - but that was 'normal' for Tom. He had violent fantasies. He understood, after prolonged contact with others, that it wasn't quite 'normal', but then again, nothing about Lord Voldemort could be normal.
The hands rested on his shoulders again; Slughorn was talking about the beauty of the Christmas season now, and that was it. That was about as much as he could take.
"Thank you for the well wishes," the Head Boy replied, shrugging the horrendous green-and-silver excuse for mittens off. "I'm sure they will be of much use to me when I'm locked inside my small room, looking out the window." That came out more bitterly than he intended.
"I apologise," he continued. "That was crass of me. I didn't plan on being a humbug. I had plans for the winter, and now it seems they're all to be delayed."
To his credit, Professor Slughorn refrained from going on in the cheerful, jolly way he'd been doing since the news was announced. He sighed, looking fondly upon his favourite student, and there must have been some aspect of Tom's profile that was especially tragic, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a candle. He offered it to Tom.
The budding Dark Lord took it gingerly. "What is this?" he asked slowly.
"My Christmas gift to you," the Professor said. "I had something more professional - but something tells me you would like this one more."
Tom raised an eyebrow. "And what am I to do with a candle?"
"But this isn't just any kind of candle," Slughorn chuckled. "Now, you are interested in different forms of magic, aren't you boy? Christmas is an inherently *magical* time of the year. It is the best time for wish-fulfillment magic."
Wish-fulfillment magic? This was the first time Tom had ever heard of it, and he told Slughorn so.
"Ah. It is a tad more alternative than the traditional wand-waving," Slughorn offered. "One draws a five-pointed star, and places this candle in the middle of it -" he demonstrated the drawing with one finger on the table -" and one implores the yuletide spirits to grant a secret desire. It will be done."
Tom looked back at the candle skeptically. It looked like it could have been any one of the multitude of candles Hogwarts had floating around - but then, he of all people, should know better than to judge something from appearances. On the other hand; Tom could not imagine giving other people a version of the magical-genie-in-a-lamp had he found one himself - if it had the power it did, why would Slughorn give it away? Then again, Tom knew that Slughorn considered him a great future investment; the Professor believed that kindnesses shown to him now would return enormous dividends.
There must be a reason Professor Slughorn was carrying an ugly and plain candle around, he told himself, with a great deal of doubt.
"And this works?"
Slughorn's lips curved. "I have it on good authority that it works," he said. "In fact, I would stake my good reputation on it!"
Tom knew better than to trust someone on their words, but Professor Slughorn had never tried to do anything but help him before. The Professor was widely-read, and an enthusiastic traveller. There was no one who had more knowledge of the stranger, more esoteric magicks than he - afterall, hadn't he told Tom about horcruxes?
Either way, it was a Christmas gift and it would be rude to refuse. Tom thanked him again and pocketed it.
Time would see if it worked.
As Tom had predicted, the orphanage was drab and grey and utterly mind-numbing. Mrs Cole, in her usual role as an overly protective and paranoid hypochondriac, had forbidden any of the children to step outside into the snow - in the fear that they would catch a cold, and consequently, their deaths.
While it was reasonable - not many of the children had a cloak that would keep out the cold - the decision was also taken very badly. Cabin fever had set upon everyone, and it was causing tensions to rise at the slightest provocation.
Utterly miserable and sick of it, Tom had pre-emptively locked himself up in his room before the matron could do so, thus self-fulfilling his own prophecy to Slughorn. As he looked through the window, he hoped idly that one of the bombs falling from German planes would hit the orphanage.
Christmas Eve came, and there was not a present to be seen. His friends had all been instructed to save their presents for after the break - having owls come bearing gifts to his window, in full sight of all the other children - would cause more trouble than the small pleasure was worth.
That was when he remembered Slughorn's candle. Feeling a bit foolish, he took it out and carefully drew a pentagram on his wooden floor, using chair-leg edges to form the perfectly straight lines.
When he was done, he lit the candle, sat back on his heels and thought. What did he want for Christmas?
"In six months, I will be graduating from Hogwarts," he told himself, eyes closed. "I will be going on the journey of my life. My resources are vast. My followers are loyal. I have a plan."
There was, however, a very small, miniscule, absolutely tiny problem that he needed to take care of. It was a minor issue, really. And the problem was this:
He wasn't normal. Tom had made his peace with that - it didn't bother him. In fact, he found the idea of being just like all the other conformists he surrounded himself with - extremely distasteful. He was glad he was unique.
But there was another way in which he wasn't normal. When his fellow dorm mates were talking about girls and their various soft and curvy body parts, Tom had found himself completely disinterested.
At first, he thought that he would grow into it. When he hadn't grown into it after six years, he thought perhaps, that he was just more interested in independent thinking than vulgar discussions about the flesh. And then one day, Tom caught himself looking a little too long at Gryffindor's shirtless, sweaty and overwhelmingly male Seeker, and reality slapped him hard across the face.
The logistics of solving this problem was a nightmare. The general consensus at Hogwarts was that their Head Boy was a true gentleman, considerate, disciplined and very, very discreet. Tom had a reputation. There were a number of boys who he thought - from observation - might have been open to some experimentation. However; if he'd slept with any single one of them, and it got out - that was his reputation gone for life. No one would take him seriously after that.
So he couldn't *mess* with any of the boys at school. In fact, Tom couldn't even ask people about it, in the paranoid fear that someone else would mention him asking. It would be better if he refrained from messing around with anyone in the wizarding world, because people talked. If there was a secret in Hogwarts, then within a day, most of the school would know about it because witches and wizards were horrible gossips.
That left the muggle world; mostly the boys in the orphanage. Tom had very briefly considered a liaison with one or two of them when he'd first come back for the Winter break, and then one of them spat at his feet, made the sign of the cross, head, chest, shoulder, shoulder, and he was suddenly reminded of why he hated the lot of them.
The remaining option was to leave it alone. This was galling to him because - one could not have a virgin Dark Lord. It simply wasn't done.
Hence; this awkward situation with Tom lying on the floor and talking to a candle that could - supposedly - give him anything he wanted.
"To the spirits who are supposedly - keeping track of the people who make wishes on this candle," Tom began.
How did one begin to address yuletide spirits? "I have a conundrum. I require someone to take care of a tiny issue of mine, and I was hoping that perhaps you would be able to direct the right candidate my way."
The candle flickered, despite the lack of anything resembling a wind current in the room. Tom noticed, and was intrigued.
"He has to be trustworthy," Tom told the candle. "This is the most important attribute. He must be capable of discretion." It wavered again, as if it understood. It was then that Tom realised he was attributing human characteristics to something that could very possibly be - just a candle; personification, he thought. He bit down on his tongue, suddenly feeling angry at himself. This whole adventure was stupid and it was possibly rotting his brain.
Who was he kidding? You could throw a coin into a wishing well, you could make a million paper cranes, you could wish your heart out on dandelion spores and falling stars and he knew, from personal experience even, that it didn't make wishes come true. Any swindler could sell you a candle on the street and tell you it granted wishes. Professor Slughorn was sadly, somewhat gullible.
The flame flickered again, in his direction this time.
On the other hand; Professor Slughorn adored his favourite student. He wouldn't give Tom a gift that was clearly useless - if nothing else, the Professor thought Tom was sure to be someone important, and he wouldn't insult his protégées in case they remembered it in the future. Professor Slughorn knew his magic. The same doubts Tom was having now would have occurred to the Professor, and if he thought it would work regardless, there had to be something special about the candle.
Tom considered it again, worrying at the wound in his mouth until he drew blood, and then continued. There was just no way of knowing until he tried it.
"He has to be someone I can stand touching," Tom said. "It would help if he was attractive, but I would rather someone who I could converse with. He needs to be clever, and he needs to be loyal."
In the end, he wound up talking to the stupid fucking candle until it had almost burnt itself out completely.
"...and my favourite colour is green," he ended on a vindictive note, just as the light flickered across his face one last time before going out.
He went to bed in the darkness. If it didn't work out, well, that was what he expected.
There was nothing at his feet on Christmas morning. This was a usual state of affairs, considering that he was still at the orphanage.
Tom got dressed and walked out of his room for the first time in a long time. It was still early in the morning so the communal bathroom was empty, and Tom enjoyed his shower in peace, even if the water was ice-cold and there was no soap to be had.
While he was waiting for his hair to dry, he'd found a tattered book hidden in between the stack of newspaper sheets lying in a storeroom. It was called 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' by L. Frank Baum. He flicked through it idly, on his way to the breakfast table.
Since it was Christmas morning, everyone got a handful of grapes, still hanging from the vine, on top of their carefully rationed meals. It wasn't the most filling, but grapes were a novelty this far up North and they were sweet. Tom had survived off less before, so he wasn't complaining. The book, in addition to his fearsome reputation, was enough to deter most people from talking to him, but there was a tiny blip halfway through breakfast when a few select kids forgot, in the midst of all their Christmas cheer.
"What did you get for Christmas?" they asked him. The girl was holding a doll; more accurately, it was a pile of rags with a crudely-drawn face on top on it. She held onto it as if it were precious.
"Mine's coming," he told them. It was true enough; by the end of the night, he would have either his present, or a new doll lying in his cupboard.
Lunch passed. He stood at the entrance to the orphanage, looking outside again - it was snowing heavily, so leaving the orphanage was out of the question - and ignored the comments of people walking past.
By the time dinner had passed, Tom was making up a number of plans to re-possess a doll.
She lived on the third floor. The girls' dorm was perpetually locked after dark and only the matron had a key. Instead of risking the trouble of swiping the key from under everyone's eyes, Tom decided that he would try climbing the side of the building instead.
What he'd done with the rabbit - that was a favourite of his; something heart-stopping, yet inexplicable and eerie - and best of all, something that could not be traced to him. No one would expect a person to be out in the snow. When the girl woke up and saw her doll desecrated, it would seem impossible to her. She would never feel safe again, knowing that someone had managed to break into her room and defile her Christmas present without her knowledge.
Tom made it as far as the second awning before something - a body - hit him in the face and sent him spiralling back into the snow.
"Bloody Salazar -" Tom rubbed snow from his eyes and turned around, obstinately to demand an explanation - did the girls on top decide it was a good idea to try jumping from windows - and stopped dead in his tracks.
His first thought was - what sort of idiot goes running around naked in the middle of winter - his second was - what sort of pervert goes running around naked on the grounds of a children's orphanage. A quick check saw that the roof of the orphanage had no footholds for anyone to stand on and the sky was clear. Because Tom was clever like that, he put 'naked person' together with 'sudden magical appearance on Christmas night' and came up with 'I can't believe that stupid candle actually worked.'
In the meanwhile, the other teenager - he couldn't have been more than a year or two older than Tom was - groaned from his position in the snow. He quickly got up onto his feet, ignoring the static field crackling with blue light around him, and waved his hand in the air, opening a rift.
"Ginny!" he yelled. "Couldn't you have sent me with some clothes?"
A disembodied voice came out of the rift.
"Spell parameters. You know how it is."
"I already said I was sorry for breaking up with you! I'm in the middle of a bloody snowfield right now - if I freeze to death when the spell fails in two minutes, that's going to be on your conscience."
"That does sound like a problem," the voice agreed. "We're troubleshooting now."
The stranger sighed. "Where on Earth did you send me this time this time?"
"I'm looking at the readings now. Alecto's spell was calibrated to... 1943?"
"Shit," he said. "World War Two. That's going to make the search harder."
Tom's attention sharpened with this last piece of news.
"Excuse me," he asked. "Were you looking for someone?"
The man froze for a minute. "Relax," the voice from the rift drawled. "You're still within spell-range. Only magical people can see you."
"I'm sorry, I can't see a bloody thing without my glasses," the stranger replied. Although the snow was falling hard and obscuring Tom's vision of the man, when the stranger turned to face Tom, Tom caught a flash of wide green eyes that were the same exact shade as that of the Slytherin house banner draped over his favourite chair in the common room. It contrasted sharply against the white of the snow.
They got the colour right, Tom thought, with thunderstorms and butterflies battling against the walls of this stomach. He crossed his arms and clamped down on his hands to stop them from twitching; it was the cold, not nerves, he told himself.
"Why don't we get out of the snow," Tom continued.
"Sure, that sounds great," the other boy replied with a carefree smile, showing a set of straight teeth.
"Since I can't rely on *someone* to pass on my belongings."
Laughter. "Have fun," the rift spoke, and then closed with a soft popping noise.
Here goes nothing. Tom checked to see if the coast was clear, and then led the other teenager to the orphanage's back door, the one they used for laundry. "My room's this way."
The stranger was even better close up and in person. Now that Tom could see the other teen without snow flying into his eyes, he could see the stranger had strong solid lines; his arms were lightly toned, biceps, shoulders, neck, collarbones, pectorals, abdominals and - someone cleared their throat and Tom looked back up to two much raised eyebrows.
"There are scars on your body," Tom said, pretending he'd been looking at those. He cared only so much as the fact that he hadn't been expecting them. Tom had his Hogwarts cloak on - it was much warmer than anything the orphanage had to offer - and he was well-bred enough to hand it over to the other person.
"My side won a long battle a couple of months ago," the boy replied. "Anyway, I'm Harry. Thanks for helping."
He put on the cloak, and now Tom was distracted by thoughts of the boy's scent mixing in with his, instead of the sight of all the skin being put on display. There was no winning.
They passed by the common dining hall, and Tom shushed him when they tiptoed past Mrs Cole's door. The corridor leading to Tom's room wasn't lit - they were saving money on candles and electricity - and Tom grabbed his hand so that they wouldn't be separated through the turns.
"We're here," Tom said finally, turning the doorknob and locking it once they were both on the other side. He sat on the bed and wondered if he should talk and figure out all the details involved in his Christmas wish first, or merely start taking his clothes off.
Harry was frowning.
"Is there a problem?" Tom asked, sprawling onto his front, leaning on his forearms. He let his legs fall open just a little.
"This looks familiar. Where are we?"
"You're in Wool's Orphanage. London."
"Wool's orphanage," Harry repeated, looking out of Tom's window with furrowed eyebrows. Now that it wasn't so cold, Tom could feel his body reacting to Harry's presence, like lightning sparking on every oversensitive, self-conscious surface, but Harry - Harry wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to the other boy on the bed.
It sent a frission of annoyance throughout Tom. Did he have to pose like a bloody playwitch centrefold before Harry got the message?
Tom was actually doing it too, unbuckling his belt and lying down in such a way that all one could see was miles and miles of long legs - his height was good for something after all - when Harry smacked himself on the head and began to laugh hysterically.
"What?" Tom asked, hands freezing on where they were undoing the buttons on his shirt.
"Wool's orphanage. You're Tom Riddle," the boy replied.
"That's correct," Tom said.
"Alright, great. Leaving now." Harry stood up and went for the door.
What? Tom grabbed Harry's forearm and put enough force in his grip to warrant attention.
"What's wrong with this room?" Tom asked. He thought about it and corrected himself. "I suppose the orphanage isn't the best place to organise this event," certainly, if Tom knew he would be losing his virginity on Christmas night, he would've organised something a little better, even if accommodation prices during Christmas shot through the roof, "But I can't leave. If you had given me some prior notice, I would have perhaps tried to find a spare room somewhere, but I didn't know you were arriving."
Harry looked at where Tom's hand was attached to his skin. "... You shouldn't have known I was arriving."
"Is that part of the Christmas mystique?" Tom tried to pull Harry back into the room, but the boy dug in his heels. "We can be quiet. It'll be all of ten minutes and you'll be free to go."
Harry began frowning again, and Merlin, even the little crease at the top of his forehead looked attractive to Tom; this was starting to get a bit ridiculous.
"Fine. Five minutes and you're free to go."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, and closed it again.
"Well," Harry said after a period of silence. "Merry fucking Christmas Tom Riddle." He began to pull away, yet again. "But I've got to go."
Tom hissed in disbelief. "You can't do that! You're my Christmas present. Received from Santa fair and square."
That got him a flat stare. "...You still believe in Santa?"
A lack of evidence was not evidence of absence. *Someone* had given him a Christmas present.
When Tom didn't reply, Harry's mouth started twitching at the corners. Immediately after, his mouth thinned back into a straight line and he looked away, like he was trying to stop looking at Tom, but his gaze kept coming back to the other boy, and his mouth kept trying to edge back into a smile.
"Would you go out into the cold with only my cloak on you?" Tom cajoled. "London's winters can be harsh. You should at least stay the night."
Just at that moment, the rift re-opened, made a great big creaking noise, and then spat a wand, cloak and glasses onto Tom's bed sheets. Tom began grinding his teeth as he watched Harry pick up his glowing items.
On the other hand, at least Tom got his cloak back. It was starting to get cold.
The other boy finally gave up on trying to repress his smile. "Look, only good boys get presents and you - I remember what you were doing when I landed on you, don't think I didn't see you poking your nose into the girl's rooms, Riddle -"
"A misunderstanding," Tom said smoothly. "You can determine from the nature of my wish that I'm not interested in girls."
Harry's eyebrows shot up. "Right," he said. "How old are you?"
"Seventeen," Tom said, as quick as a fox. It would be true enough in a few days.
Instead of convincing Harry that everything was alright, and could they please proceed with the wish-fulfilling now, the news seemed to have the opposite effect. Harry's face darkened, and something like a cold wind blew into the room.
"Myrtle's dead then," he said, matter-of-fact. "You - you're definitely not on Santa's nice list this year."
Harry waved his wand and something materialised in his hands. "You get coal."
Whilst Tom was busy trying to catch the new item that had been thrown to him, Harry threw on the cloak, and put on his glasses. He looked back at Tom while walking through the door, did a double take (Tom was looking up at him through dark lashes, shirt undone and slipping off his shoulders), before shaking his head and apparating with a faint crack.
Boxing Day was nauseatingly still full of good cheer. When the other children were prancing around and folding cardboard boxes into neat rectangles, Tom was sitting in front of the fireplace, watching his little rock of coal burn and burn and burn. He stared into the flames licking up the sides of the brickwork and charring the surface.
Five days. Five more horrific days until he turned seventeen and received the right to use magic in the muggle world. Five more horrific days until he could finally hunt his Christmas present down.
His plans for Voldemort were going to have to sit on the back-burner, until he finally got rid of his virginity. Until then, he would have to make do with the coal piece he'd received in lieu of an actual present.
Fortunately, to his pleasant surprise, Tom saw the man again in the middle of the orphanage grounds. He was unfortunately, in a thick woollen coat this time. The rift was once again, present.
"The spell's not that strong," the voice was saying. "Alecto's good at hiding herself, but her spell's got a locus point. She can't step outside of a certain range."
Upon sighting the man, Tom ran to his room to grab his cloak, and then disregarding the weather, stomped over to the man's position. He intended on telling 'Harry' exactly what he thought of his mediocre substitute for a Christmas gift.
"Before you go on," the man opened. "I'm under a disillusionment charm. I'm obliged to tell you that everyone's looking at you like you're an idiot right now."
"Everyone already thinks I'm delusional," Tom hissed. "Another incident where I appear to be talking to thin air won't make a Salazar-damned difference." He turned around anyway, and as sure as water, there was Lizzie and her group of friends gaping at 'crazy mister tomcat' through the window.
The stranger raised an eyebrow. Tom sighed. "Look, I made a wish on a magic wishing candle. You need. To grant. My wish."
"You can talk to our complaints department. Leave your name and number." Harry smirked. "Ask for Hermione."
"Very funny," Tom replied. "What about you save me the trouble of doing that, and... grant me my wish?" He gestured gracefully to the orphanage. "It will be warmer inside," Tom cajoled.
"And I told you, only good boys get presents," Harry scowled.
Tom stared. "You mean, if I had been in my bed like a good little boy, all this would have been over and done with already?"
Harry smiled - it was entirely fake and unconvincing. "Maybe. If you weren't sneaking into girl's bathrooms, and plotting to commit genocide, I might've been willing to fulfil your wish. Myrtle's death eradicates any moral high ground you may possess."
The fact that he knew about Myrtle was alarming. Harry had brought her up before; however, Tom had previously been too distracted to question his knowledge. The stranger's glasses glinted - his eyes were cold.
"I know that the Chamber of Secrets lies under the girl's toilets on the second floor. I know the monster is a basilisk. You let it out and commanded it to attack muggleborns, and you only stopped once your Headmaster said he'd have to close Hogwarts. To prevent the school's closure, you framed Hagrid and his pet acromantula for the girl's death."
Harry prodded Tom's chest. "I know everything about you, Tom Marvolo Riddle," he said, breathing hard. "You can't lie to me."
The words had a strange settling effect on Tom, who had been about to deny everything related to Myrtle before Harry spilled the beans. He looked into green, Christmas-green, Slytherin-green, and as unsympathetic as any Slytherin might have been. Leglimency revealed nothing but static - very unusual for a human being, but Tom thought that it might have had something to do with Harry coming out of a rift in reality. Sorcerers who looked into dimenses past their own; the underworld, the world of the Sidhe, often ended up blinded or insane - their minds couldn't process the information.
The point was - it was very dangerous information for people other than Tom to know. Without breaking eye contact with Harry, Tom began to draw his wand from his pockets. By revealing his knowledge, Harry had just been transferred from a Tom issue to a Voldemort problem.
It didn't escape Harry's eyes. "What are you planning with that wand," he asked.
"I was wondering if 'obliviate' works on all creatures," Tom offered. He would know in a moment.
"And what," Harry said slowly, "were you going to tell the Ministry aurors? Sorry, I slipped?"
"The truth. Some strange person appeared out of a portal. Self-defence."
Harry barked out a harsh laugh. "Go ahead," he said, which conversely, made Tom hesitant. "I don't actually exist in this reality. My fingerprints disappear from door handles, my footprints fade after minutes in the snow. The girls behind you will say that you've been talking to thin air for a good ten minutes now. Have fun explaining that."
At Tom's considering look, Harry explained. "I have no intentions of revealing your dastardly plans to the world. I'm here for one reason and one reason only."
Well, in that case then. Perhaps this could be resolved by talking.
"I admit to entering places where I shouldn't tread, and I admit to," Tom waved a hand in the air, "the manipulation of events and the general bullying that occurs at Hogwarts. I've been bad. But these acts - are misdemeanours, at most. Isn't Christmas a time for forgiving?"
"How could anyone forgive a death," Harry replied, softly.
"But surely, you wouldn't count Myrtle?"
Tom had meant - surely, whoever wrote the naughty and nice lists ought not to count Myrtle as one of his bad acts. Tom had only let the basilisk out, as an ode to its greatness and beauty; such things were not meant to be caged under stone, in the dark. The fact that it had gone around petrifying people had worried him at first, but the basilisk had assured him that she was careful. And then it became a bonus; he was genuinely amused at the fear perpetuated by a creature he knew to be mostly harmless.
Myrtle's death had come as a nasty surprise. You'd think that if a boy called out 'anyone there?' into a girl's toilet, the girls inside would reply - BEFORE he went into their bathroom.
So what if he panicked a little when he heard Hogwarts was going to close? He was only human.
Harry's face darkened with rage. "So Myrtle doesn't count. I guess she doesn't count because she's not a pureblood. Muggle families don't cry when they lose a daughter. Halfbloods like us don't feel anything when people close to us die."
Tom opened his mouth to say that had not been what he meant at all – Voldemort's political platform was about the reformation of Wizarding society in the interests of progress, not the elimination of everyone who wasn't a pureblood – but Harry only yelled "Hypocrite!" into the space between them and disappeared.
Tom went to bed with a face as sour as lemons.
He woke up in the middle of a night to a leering figure balanced over his self. For a moment, he thought that Harry had come to his senses and changed his mind, until the person traced long, painted fingernails down his cheek.
"Master," it said reverently. A second inspection revealed that the figure had long hair and curves in the wrong places.
"It appears that you have the wrong room," Tom replied, matter-of-fact and seemingly unconcerned about the stranger in his room at ungodly hours of the night. He was actually, more than a little concerned.
"Alecto Carrow," it said. "At your eternal service."
Now why couldn't Harry have approached him like this? He would have been much more appreciative of Slughorn's present then.
"I understand that you may be wondering about my presence. You were once great, but you were led to destruction. I have come back to warn you."
Tom did not care the least. If he was great, he would be great again, and he would be great without advice from suspect characters who liked to sneak into other people's rooms.
"Get out of my room," he said, flat-out. Four days until he could use magic. Until then, all he had was his ingenuity. "If I am your master, you will do as I command."
It looked around. "The timing could be better," it admitted. "I'm sorry for waking you up at night. It was the only time I could be sure you were alone. When can we meet again?"
"Never. Stay away from me."
It looked at him, almost amused. "The information I have involves your death. If you order me to leave, I will, but you will want this information in the future."
"There is an abandoned house three blocks down this street. Meet me inside. A week from now, five in the evening," he told her finally. Alecto nodded, satisfied, and disappeared through the window.
Life went on even as Christmas passed. Tom had other plans before he hatched this one, and they involved thinking about his future. Things to do. Places to see. People to conquer.
His Christmas Present was still on the lawn when Tom left his room. Harry had pitched up a tent and it was flattening the snow and leaving quite an indent on the surroundings. As was typical, no one seemed to have noticed the great big bloody hole in the environment.
Muggles were always so oblivious.
Harry was inside the tent, fiddling with some sort of device.
"Did you have anything to do with the thing in my bedroom last night?" Tom asked him.
"She says she is one of my followers. From the future. Is this true?"
Harry didn't say anything, and Tom knew he was right. The confirmation was all he wanted for now.
Harry peered at him over his glasses. "Did she say anything to you?"
"Nothing that I care to repeat to you," Tom said, already getting back up, about to leave.
"I would tell you that lives and the future are at stake, but I don't think you care," Harry replied. He sounded a little bitter, but he wasn't angry. "What did you even wish for anyway?"
Tom told him. The look on Harry's face was almost as good as getting a real Christmas present. It would do.
"Okay, I think this needs saying. I am, and I repeat, I am NOT a custom-built sex-doll sent from whatever demented wishing-candle reality you dreamed up. I have never ever even heard of a wishing candle."
Tom shrugged. It wasn't his job to make the wish objects self-aware.
Harry's eyes darkened. "Did you think I was going to stick around to be your test subject, or your indentured servant? No, I've got a life of my own. I've got a job to do."
"I'm aware," Tom said, with a smile playing on his lips, "and I'm going to leave you to it."
"What, you're not going to try and imperio me the second you've got the chance?"
"It would be nice if my Christmas Present acted and worked the way I wanted it to, but as far as things go – in the long run, there are other things more important. I have things to do as well. I'm only waiting until I'm able to use magic freely."
Harry bit his lips. If he truly was from the future, no doubt he knew a little of Tom's plans already.
Tom ran his hand over the tent. It seemed solid, and well built, despite the snow.
"Besides, I'm used to not being able to keep my presents. It doesn't bother me."
For a second, the look in Harry's eyes changed to something like sorrow. Tom blinked and it was gone.
"Look…" Harry said instead. "Alecto's still a problem. I've been here a couple of days already, but she's being clever. She's not like your other death eaters; no random disappearances, no muggle bodies to satisfy her Lord. Nothing in the news. If you can help us catch her… you might make it onto the nice list for Christmas. We'll both get whatever we want."
Tom nodded, but inside he thought differently. As nice as it would be to finally lose his virginity, in comparison to information about his death - there was no contest. He would be a fool if he allowed Alecto to be captured before she told him what he needed to know.
"What would you like me to do?"
New Year's Eve. A letter came by OWL congratulating him on reaching his majority. He could buy firewhiskey legally. It reminded him that he could be tried for crimes as an adult now.
He felt the magic rushing around him and laughed. There was no better feeling.
Plans upon plans unfolded themselves in his mind. There were events he had to be at. Negotiations to fulfil. Money to be made.
His wand was thirteen and a half inches, and it felt like it had been waiting quietly for him. She was his truest servant, the stick of yew, and the one that had never betrayed him. Not Abraxas, not Pollux, and not Alecto, not even if she called him Master.
She flew through the air, and Tom watched with satisfaction as everything he owned shrunk and flew into a bag that had been transfigured from paper. The bed stripped itself, and the window shone, scrubbed clean. The linen all went into another bag.
He went down to Mrs Cole's office then, with both bags thrown over his shoulder. She was at her desk.
Mrs Cole looked at him. Her face was – strange.
"Got something for you. You'll be wanting it. Maybe."
Tom was idly amused; she'd never liked him but he was in too good a mood to remind her why.
"Christmas was a few days ago," he told her dryly. "But I will take the gift all the same."
She scowled at him then. "Not a Christmas present," she said, and flung an envelope at him. "Your mother wrote you a letter before she died. Maybe you want it."
He snatched the letter, brown and crumpled with age, from the air. A letter from his mother? Hadn't she died giving birth to him? Even if he hadn't formed attachments to anyone in the orphanage – when had he ever given Mrs Cole the impression that he wouldn't have wanted a letter from his mother?
Tom opened it with a flick of his fingers. It had inside, an address to a place in Little Hangleton.
"You were supposed to give this to me when I turned fifteen," he told her, skimming it quickly.
She shrugged. "I remember you at fifteen and you were a bloody horror." She was contemplative now. "You're an adult now. Maybe you've grown up since then."
Complications. He stopped looking for his father an age ago, once he realised he was the heir to Slytherin. Tom had thought he didn't care anymore, but now the address was in his hand. It was complicated.
He was dealing with Alecto in a week. Less than a week now.
The purebloods would be having New Year celebrations, and they would welcome him if he decided to go... but Yuletide was the important date, magically speaking. New Year's was an arbitrary date on the Gregorian calendar. The lunar new year was more significant: it was based on astronomical events and on the lunisolar calendar, and he had wanted to find a werewolf then.
"Jerry's looking for someone to fill in a place at the docks," Mrs Cole continued.
When a person left the orphanage, Mrs Cole would try her best to organise a celebration. In this case, she had correctly deduced that Tom would rather leave as quickly as possible. If they were of age, she also tried to organise a job for them, even if it was shining shoes, or working in the fish-markets. Something that would keep them alive when they left.
Tom didn't need it: he already had several income streams flowing in Hogwarts. He had a talent for charms and arithmancy, in addition to other, more sophisticated work, and he did a bit of spell-work on the side. He also had a knack for finding hidden things and tracking them down, he made a killing off black market trading, and he got commissions on all of these.
"I've got something lined up for me already," he told Mrs Cole, thinking about Borgins. The Knockturn Alley store had already made promises, but Tom wanted to see what the Ministry offered, first. "However, I appreciate the thought."
He did. She didn't like him. She did this for him anyway. As miserable as his childhood had been, he had gone through it and lived.
He was still alive. At the end, it was all he could've hoped for.
For that, Tom took a memento from her desk. It was a dip pen, something that she had set aside with the other pens, and he doubted that she would miss it. He slipped it into his pocket. Mrs Cole never even noticed his hand moving.
He put the bag with all his linen onto her desk. Handed in his pillow cases, covers, blankets – the grey standard issue items that they gave to all the orphans. It would probably go to a child that needed it more than he did.
"This is for you," Tom told her.
She took a quick look inside. Some of his old clothes were in there, heating charms still attached. Shorts and knee-high socks.
"I thought you would've burnt all of these when you left," she said, looking at the bag with that same complex expression on her face.
He had thought about it. Burning down every reminder that he had once lived here in this cesspool of human rejects on the edge of society. He hadn't.
"Maybe you've grown up," she repeated to herself, finally. "You'll do great things, Tom Riddle. Everyone knows it. Just – don't you be getting into trouble on the way."
Tom almost smiled at that. Almost.
"Happy New Year's Eve, Mrs Cole. Farewell."
He closed the door behind him as he left. It would be the last time he ever saw her, alive.
Tom walked to the docks after that, a free man, one of age. He watched the ships come in on New Year's Day.
There were fireworks.
Harry found him there some time later. It was almost midnight. Tom was sitting on the edge of the wharf, with his legs dangling over the side. He'd taken his boots off. His toes were in the water.
"Happy birthday," he said with some caution, knowing that Tom could use magic now.
The docks were quiet at this time of the night. There was no moon, and not enough light to do much of anything. Some guards, but not many, because it was cold outside.
"You know," Tom said conversationally. "I think you're the first person to say that to me today."
"It's fifteen to midnight," Harry replied with some surprise.
Tom hummed. "I agree. It's likely that you'll be the only person to say that to me today."
Harry fell silent then. He put his bag down and sat next to Tom. It was probably wise; they were in a disreputable part of town, late at night, and on a night that had no moons and no stars. People got nervous, when it was dark, when they saw that they couldn't see the stars. No light to navigate by. No way to find your way.
Tom didn't. He was perfectly at ease in the darkness.
"There's nothing to see out here," Harry said, staring into the distance. "It's pitch-black."
"The world's that way," Tom explained to his partner on the pier. "The world is all dark. The sunshine's a lie. This is when you see the true state of the world."
"But it's true," Tom insisted. "And I needed a reminder."
Harry bit down on his lip, thinking. "You think the world is dark because it is to you. But you haven't seen the world."
Tom smiled humourlessly. "World War Two. Think I can say it is. Think I can say I have."
"The war will end," Harry told him, with a certainty that no one in the Ministry had. Tom knew, he'd been at the dinners that the Malfoys arranged with their political partners, with the Secretary, with the Minister, and no one was sure. Some of them said it wouldn't reach Wizarding London. Grindelwald wouldn't dare, because he was afraid of Albus Dumbledore.
His transfiguration professor never said anything either way. Tom didn't know. Grindelwald didn't seem like a man who was afraid of anything.
"It's like," Harry continued. "If you spend all your time in a cupboard with no light, you might believe that there isn't any light outside of it. But you don't know for sure if there isn't light out there. Not until you leave. You haven't been out in the world. The world for you, right now, is that orphanage that you left, and Hogwarts, and the parts of London you've seen. Maybe you didn't see any light there. But you still haven't seen the world. So how can you say 'the world is all dark'? When you don't know."
"I haven't lived in a cupboard," Tom replied.
"Was it traumatising?"
"Living in a cupboard? No, not really. I didn't know that people didn't do that. So it was normal for me."
"No," Tom said. "Finding that there was light outside of it. When you thought your whole life that there wasn't."
Harry was going to say 'no', Tom thought. He almost did, but then he changed his mind.
"Maybe. People had friends and I knew that friendship and families were something that existed, but it never really applied to me. They were concepts, like how you know there's a billion billion stars out there and there's no way of visiting all of them and no way we'll ever learn about all of them. One day, a black hole could swallow up all of Earth and everything would be gone. Even with all our magic and all the technology in the world, things still remain unknown to us. Friends were like that. Magic was like that. Learning about the Wizarding World – I didn't deal with it very well."
"It was a bit of a shock when I learnt about magic. When I made friends. It didn't feel real. These were things that I wasn't supposed to have to deal with, ever. But it was awesome. Magic's awesome. Having friends are awesome. Being in love was awesome."
Tom hummed. He would believe that there was light outside of the cupboard when he saw it.
"So it was traumatising, but you learnt to like it."
"... when you lose your virginity, it'll be exactly the same way. Maybe. It's your choice how you want to deal with it. You could do it once and decide it wasn't for you. You could decide not to do it ever. There isn't anything wrong with being a virgin and a Dark Lord. You might want to have the ability to attract unicorns in the future."
"For what? Powdered horns and unicorn hair? I'm not a potions master and I don't make wands. I don't plan on doing that."
Harry was grinning. "You're not thinking dark enough, but okay. It's going to make Quirrel's life so much harder."
"Don't worry about it. Not now, anyway. Remember, you haven't seen the world yet."
That was the plan though. One left school, one saved up money, one went to travel. He was halfway there. Tom had six months of school left. Then he was going to get his graduation hat and robe, and disappear.
Tom was going to the forests of Brocéliande, where Vivian who learnt from Merlin, had entrapped the greatest sorcerer of their time within a tree of oak. He would be travelling by the Temple of Artemis in Greece, where the Gorgon Medusa was depicted on the west pediment. Then Albania, which was home to three different species of vampires; the sampiro, the lugat or kukithi, and the vrykolokas, also where Ravenclaw's daughter hid her diadem.
He was going to go the Old Kingdom tombs - the necropolis Saqqara, the vast burial ground for the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis - to learn Egyptian soul magic. There were five soul pieces in Egyptian history: the jb, heart, šwt, shadow, rn, name, ba and ka. The Haitian rendition was the same: the corps cadavre, mortal flesh, n'âme, or spirit of the flesh; z'étoile, or star of destiny; the gros-bon-ange and the ti-bon-ange.
Tom was going to compare the two. By the end of it, not only would he be a Dark Wizard, but one that specialised in soul magic. Possibly the leading expert in the subject, because it was such an obscure part of magic. The two branches told him that the soul naturally split into five. Tom was going a step further, and adapting it for seven.
Mesopotamia. Assyria. Babylon, now present-day Iraq, where four Iraqi generals had overthrown the government in a coup d'état three years past, which led to the British invasion and subsequent occupation of the country.
Then on his return. The hangle was an iron pothook used for hanging kettles over a fire. Little Hangleton to visit his father.
Maybe. He hadn't decided on the last one yet.
Tom had plans.
"I received a letter from my mother," he told Harry. "Mrs Coles passed it to me when I discharged myself from the orphanage. My father lives in Little Hangleton."
Harry bent his knees, took his feet away from the water and crossed them in front of him.
"Sometimes life doesn't go the way you plan. Sometimes… I miss Ginny."
He was looking to the sky. "We were going to get married."
Tom didn't care. Harry had been sent to him; the candle had brought him here for a reason. It didn't matter if the other boy was going to get married, or was engaged or had gotten married, Tom wouldn't have respected that relationship anyway.
If Harry was interested. He hadn't sounded like he would've been, the last time they spoke. And in the end, there were things more important.
"Think I should visit my father?"
The other boy looked at him. "Depends on why."
"He's one half of two people who were with each other long enough to put me onto this Earth. He's part of the reason why I exist at all. I'd like to meet him. I don't know if I should. My mother was using love potions, she wrote in her letter, and I don't know if they were in love when I was conceived. I don't know if they loved each other at all. Could you fall in love with someone who committed such a crime against you?"
They were sitting close enough to touch now. Tom could feel the warmth drifting off Harry's skin.
Harry was slow to reply.
"I've got a story for you," Harry said, instead of saying a simple 'yes' or 'no'. "There are people in Azkaban with wives and sons who love them. My Godfather was there, he got in there for killing my parents."
They were both orphans then, or as good as.
"I was so angry when I first met him, my Godfather. He was why I was living the life I was. Stuck in a cupboard surrounded by people who didn't care. He told me his story, and I don't know if I believed him at the time. There wasn't much of a chance to do anything, or make decisions. But his hair was long and dirty – he'd been living for weeks as a dog. He was so pathetic. I pitied him."
Even in the darkness, Harry's eyes were shining, bright and furious. They were still sitting side by side, but he'd grabbed Tom's arm sometime during the conversation, and he was gripping harder and harder as he spoke.
"He says he didn't kill my parents – that it was another man who did it. But he did. He was part of it. A whole lot of people and circumstances caused my parents to die, and they all share the blame equally in my eyes."
Harry stopped after he said this, doing nothing else but holding on and breathing. Tom was both idly amused and slightly annoyed at the idea that there would be a purple ring of finger-marks somewhere on his upper arm come morning, but he ignored it, because it felt like Harry was talking to him instead of his Godfather.
Finally, Harry gave Tom's arm one final squeeze, apologetically rubbed the skin with the edge of his thumb, and let go.
"He had a lot of problems," the other boy concluded. "I loved him all the same. You should give people chances, maybe."
A bell rung in the distance. The clock chimed – one, two, three-
Harry kissed him at twelve. Lips against lips, it was as light as a feather.
"Is this pity?" Tom asked.
Harry shook his head.
"Tradition," he explained. "You keep saying , 'the whole world is dark.' I'll tell you, keep waiting, and you'll see the dawn."
New Year's came slowly.
Harry stayed sitting with him until the first rays of the sun hit, and then he disappeared to do whatever he did whenever he wasn't with Tom.
Tom too, dragged himself off the pier and checked himself in at an inn. Something that wasn't the worst, it wasn't the best, but the sheets were clean and that was all Tom cared about.
When he woke up again, it was high-noon, and Harry was sitting by his bedside.
"You do realise," Tom said slowly, rubbing his face as he woke up, "that watching people sleep is not in the slightest bit romantic, regardless of what the pulp magazines may say."
"You have bedhead!" Harry replied, with the biggest grin on his face. Obviously, he had not been deterred in the least by Tom's general aura of impending doom. "And wake up already, it's New Years, everyone wants the New Year to start on a good note. You can use magic now. There are so many things we can do."
That was true. It took all of ten minutes for Tom to shower, dress and bring himself to a point where he was presentable to polite society, and in the meantime, Harry had come back with food.
"What's this?" Tom asked.
"Croissants. From across the English Channel. You can eat them like they are, or you can put ham and cheese in them and eat it like that."
"You went to France?"
"We're allied with them, aren't they? They've got nice food and nice girls."
"Girls," Tom said, his voice indicating that he couldn't care less about the subject.
Harry laughed. "You've never met the ladies at Beauxbatons. Veela."
"Should I be jealous?"
"No," Harry said, still smiling. "You'd eat Fleur alive in the tri-wizarding tournament. Krum would run away screaming. Should I talk about the boys at Durmstrang then?"
"What about them?"
"All boys school. They're really big on the Dark Arts as well. Grindelwald went there, left a gigantic imprint of his symbol on the wall. You can imagine all the shenanigans those boys get up to."
"I think I went to the wrong school entirely then," Tom said idly. "What are they like?"
Harry thought about it for a bit. "Krum was nice enough. He went out with one of my friends to the ball, even though he got a lot of shit for it." He looked at Tom and raised an eyebrow. "Do you want to see for yourself?"
"I heard Durmstrang's across the continent. Sweden or Norway."
"I can apparate the distance. Seriously."
"The continent's at war."
"We'll be careful," Harry said. "Or were you thinking, we can't take them on? I'm an auror and I know you're so deep in the Dark Arts I'm surprised you can breathe."
Tom lifted his head. "I certainly hope you can take them on, because I won't be rescuing you if you get left behind."
Harry had an invisibility cloak – it must've been new, because the ones made of demiguise hair became opaque with age. They sat at the top of the bleachers, and they were huddling together, because it was cold.
Unfortunately, Harry forgot to mention that Durmstrang was beside an icy-cold lake, so when they inevitably tripped some wartime alarm, they were forced to dive into it to evade the barrage of spells from the castle.
They stripped off and warmed up by the fire in the inn.
Harry's hair was a mess and there was never any saving it, but he looked better like this, topless and grinning unabashed at himself after an incredibly idiotic adventure, than he did before with politely distant and professional eyes in the Auror uniform. More his age. Less like he could've been a stone-cold killer in another life.
The boys at Durmstrang were exotic, but they didn't compare to the ones at home.
Tom had expressed an interest in basilisks, so after Harry took a good long look at Tom, he dragged the pair of them to Pompeii. Pliny the Elder recorded the first known description of a basilisk here, before he had been consumed by the sulphurous fumes of Vesuvius.
Then they went to investigate the last known account of the basilisk in Warsaw 1587, where a Silesian convict named Faurer dressed in leather armour and mirrors dragged it with a rake into the light.
There were neither skins nor eggs at either site. It was a shame.
"Aren't you worried about Alecto, I believe her name is. Should you be spending all this time with me?"
Harry shrugged. "She's quiet. We'll know where she is when she actually does something. Ron's got it covered. Hermione's much more interested in what I'm doing with you."
"Your friends know?"
"They do. Hermione's giving me all these tips. And trust me, Ginny's watching like a hawk. Turns out we have the same taste in men."
Tom was sitting, legs crossed in an armchair. He might've smirked.
Their last stop was the British Museum, which held tablets written in cuneiform, one of the earliest known systems of writing. One of the tablets was about the Epic of Gilgamesh, a legendary ruler of Uruk, who also too, underwent a search for immortality. The heart of the Sumerian epic was the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, men who first met as enemies and then grew to become lovers.
Harry covered his face when he realised what the story was about. "Hermione," he explained, apologetically to Tom. "Tom, next time, you take us to a place you'd like to go to, and I'll come along instead."
Days passed, and then it was time to meet Alecto in that abandoned house at the end of the street.
She sat alone and demurely square in the middle of the room. Alecto had arranged another chair for Tom to sit in, and a coffee table in between them. The room was otherwise bare of all furniture.
"Would you like some tea," she asked, gesturing to the chair. Tom could tell from the way she was sitting, with her legs crossed and hands folded, that Alecto had very likely been a woman in high society at one point in her past.
Had been. Her fingers jerked and spasmed minutely, and she smiled as though she knew she should do it, but couldn't quite remember how to do so. Tom both pitied and wondered at Alecto, who was trying so hard for a semblance of normality when her fingers and legs routinely jerked and gave the game away.
"No thank you," he told her. "I'm quite busy, as you may understand. You were telling me you had important news."
"He's going to be your downfall. The boy you've been hanging around," she told him, conversationally. "Voldemort's downfall. I don't care what happens to me at all, but I thought you should know. I travelled sixty years into the past to tell you."
"He's waiting outside the door," Tom told her. He felt he owed her that piece of honesty.
She shook her head.
"I've done my job," she said. "It's your life."
She went quietly with Harry to the rift. Her legs didn't quite work right.
It couldn't have been long. A minute, two minutes, and then Harry was back, walking slowly to Tom with a solemn expression on his face.
"She's going to Azkaban for life," Harry murmured softly, eyes far-off and off-colour. He leaned against the wall. Closed his eyes against the sun.
"Not just her. Malfoy's dad, Crabbe's and Goyle's. Couple of others. Bellatrix and Rodolphus, when you were defeated the first time. Snape would've been there, but he died. Crabbe's kid too. When you died that first time, a man named Barty was planning for years and years to bring you back, and he got nothing for it, so it wasn't like she didn't know."
He smiled, and there was something of a dark edge to it. "Alecto knew that you wouldn't reward her for it, and she still went sixty years into the past to try and warn you about me."
"She's got nerve damage," Tom said, rather than address anything the other boy had said. "Every step must be excruciating."
That dark edge in Harry's smile only grew.
"That's what happens when you use the Cruciatus long-term," Harry replied, in a casual imitation of Tom's crisp British accent and perfect enunciation. He said Cruciatus the way the spell was cast, cru-sss-i-o, with the sibilant rather than the way it was meant to be read in its original latin – cru-ky-a-tus – all c's pronounced with the hard k.
"That's what Voldemort does."
The tea that Alecto had poured for Tom was still warm on the table. He'd refused it before, but now that she was gone, he sat down and took a sip.
"She's my Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come isn't she?"
"It's not Christmas anymore," Harry said. He was staring at the walls, at the chair, at the tea pot Alecto had left behind, and the stupid compassion he had in his voice for someone who was so obviously his enemy made Tom – furious. There was no other way to describe the anger that had just risen up in him.
Fuck the tea. Bombarda went the tea cup. Confringo went the saucer. Expulso. . Diffindo. Engorgio. Glacius. Everte Statum. Flipendo. Avifors.
When Tom came to himself again, he was breathing hard, and the room looked as though a hurricane, a tsunami and an earthquake had hit it, all at the same time. What was left of the walls was covered in scorch marks and ice, dead parts of blown up birds littered the room, and the ceiling had partially caved in under the pressure.
Harry had gone for his wand and flipped over the table when Tom started casting. His messy hair was covered with flakes of plaster, and he eyed the broken glass on the floor, and then Tom with wary, wary eyes.
"I'm not going to stop what I'm doing with the Ministry," Tom said desperately. "Things like this happen. You have to make sacrifices."
"I wasn't expecting you to," Harry replied evenly.
That just made him angrier.
"Avada Kedavra," he said, throwing the spell at Harry with a snap of his wand. The poisonous green spell lashed out like a snake. Tom was expecting Harry to move, but he didn't.
The body fell to the floor.
Alecto had gone to Azkaban to tell him this, hadn't she? This was what he was supposed to do with the information. This was him ensuring Voldemort's reign.
This was him, ripping his heart out. His body wasn't used to the absence yet, and that was why he was feeling so empty. When he cut his soul too, things would be better.
Tom dragged himself to the window and slowly slid down the wall.
Tom was having an existential crisis.
He'd killed two people before he even lost his virginity. One of them was a boy he'd only kissed a few days ago. In the future, he would gain followers for his cause, as he knew he would, and he would respond to their devotion with torture. He had been defeated. He'd died more than once.
He – was being pushed violently off balance. Tom turned it into a roll, and was back up in a flash, with his wand out.
"Don't tell me you're crying," Harry said, wand also by his side. A spell was already glinting at the tip, in direct opposition to Harry's tone, which sounded as though he was only talking about the weather. "You just tried to kill me. Actual murder."
Harry should've been dead. Tom had no words.
"Guess you didn't mean it."
"I did," Tom replied, with a voice that was somewhat unsteady. He'd hated Harry more than anything at that moment, thinking of an old woman spending the rest of her life in Azkaban, thinking of this boy, who tricked him into falling in love with him and then was revealed to be his killer.
"You did," Harry confirmed. "I can't die."
"What was the point then! What was the point of coming back sixty years to talk to me, when she knew that it was impossible? When she knew my enemy couldn't die?"
He became quieter.
"Voldemort was always destined to lose then, wasn't he. From the very beginning. It's fate."
"There was a prophecy," Harry said, sounding torn. He looked like he wanted to be furious, but would up only feeling uncomfortable.
"No. Don't tell me anymore about my future. I don't want to know."
Harry gave up, sighed, and sat down by Tom again. Tom looked at him, and was again, struck with how every bit of Harry was perfect, from the way he looked, to the way he felt, to the fact that he couldn't die.
"My future is uncertain. Nothing I do matters though, if I die. So I'll ask quickly: do I get to keep you?"
"When you fall in love with someone," Harry replied ruefully, like he half regretted it. "You fall in love with every single part of them. Or you don't fall in love with them at all. I knew what I was getting myself into."
He put one hand on Tom's arm, and when Tom didn't move, he slid carefully into Tom's personal space. The other hand went to Tom's face, back of the hand sliding up Tom's cheekbones, pushing back his hair, revealing Tom's eyes, dark and stormy.
"I very recently tried to kill you," Tom said, somewhat bemused in spite of himself. Harry moved his fingers to Tom's throat, and Tom let him, wondering what Harry would do.
Harry laughed. "You have to try a lot harder than that," he replied, pulling him in lips to lips instead.
In another life, he had actually managed to kill the being that Tom had turned into, so as far as he was concerned, what Tom had done in a moment of insanity was nothing.
And on the other hand? Tom was done, with the day, with all the unwelcome clues about his future, he was going to get through the rest of the week first, and then think about what he wanted to do later.
Dumbledore was sitting at his desk. There were a great amount of spinning objects, flashing lights and other odds and ends at the edges, and Horace Slughorn could not have imagined what even half of them were designed to do.
Officially, they were here to talk about the Hogwarts syllabus and the things to be changed for next year, or the year after. Unofficially, it was an information-trading session. Horace had contacts everywhere, and he liked to feed gossip to them in order to receive gossip back, and Albus had a deep need to know what was going on, behind the scenes in the war.
He fingered a particular gadget, inscribed with the deathly hallows symbol. It had been presented to him as a youth.
"I am concerned about your favouritism," Dumbledore said to Horace Slughorn.
"Is this about Tom Riddle again? There is nothing wrong with a little bit of ambition," Slughorn rebuked.
"It is more than a little bit of ambition, Horace and you and I both know it."
That - couldn't be argued with. Slughorn had not forgotten Tom's question 'wouldn't seven be better?'. He had his suspicions. But then again; Tom was sixteen and naturally curious. The older children tended to be fascinated by frightening things - severed hands, guillotines, ghosts - the scarier and bloodier the story, the more they appreciated it.
Slughorn imagined Tom had read up about horcruxes, gotten fascinated with them in the same way all boys were fascinated about morbid things - and then because Tom was a little bit cleverer, thought of a way he could one-up Herpo the foul. He asked Slughorn for confirmation and probably went to sleep thinking he was smarter than the dark wizard. He would forget all about it in a few days. With hope.
"You worry too much," Slughorn told Dumbledore. "Concerned about my favouritism indeed! Some might say that they were concerned about the attention you pay that one boy!"
Dumbledore tapped his fingers on the table. "It is our duty as professors to pay attention. If we don't, who knows what we might miss?"
The Potions Professor heaved a sigh. He knew something of Dumbledore's history with the current Dark Lord. He could understand where Dumbledore was coming from, but felt that the Transfiguration Professor was overly cautious because of his background. How many children talked about how they'd die for a date with Rosmerta or that they'd kill for the latest broomstick? How many of these actually grew up and became a serial killer? None. The statistics were on his side.
"Very well, I won't argue. It's true that Tom is my favourite. And I did get him a very small Christmas present."
"What did Tom get?"
Slughorn happily told him. "One of the candles from the Great Hall. It gives a little bit more light than lumos. Useful for walking around in dungeons."
"A candle?" Dumbledore replied, astonished. "And what did he make of it?"
"I told him it was a wishing candle. Make a wish and blow."
Dumbledore had frozen in his seat. He looked as if someone could knock him over with a feather. Slughorn flashed him a grin that was downright Slytherin, and in the next moment Dumbledore was shaking his head, one hand over his eyes and chuckling. This version of the Transfiguration teacher, smiling with red in his cheeks was much improved over the Dumbledore that had been questioning Slughorn with dark heavy eyes. This was the man that Grindelwald had fallen in love with, once upon a time.
"The boy will figure it out," Dumbledore said, winding down. He reached for a glass of eggnog. There was the Christmas cheer Slughorn had been searching for! Horace congratulated himself on a job well done.
"I shall simply tell him that some wishes take time to develop, and some desires take time time to acquire. He will understand."
"I'm not sure he will."
"The gift isn't the candle," Slughorn explained. "I thought that he could use the hope more than any material present I could give him. What gift is better than hope?"
The transfiguration teacher couldn't say. He toasted his colleague and they spent the rest of the evening in front of the fire, talking about happier subjects.
The sunlight was shining into the room through long, glass windows. It bathed the whole room in golden light.
Harry was drawing snitches over Tom's naked shoulders.
"I don't know what to do now," Tom was saying. "I had all these plans."
Harry thought for a minute about all the horcruxes Tom had made. The cup, the diadem, the ring.
"You're pretty good at finding obscure things," he replied. "You ever heard of the Deathly Hallows?"