Um … you know, the thing about college is, the work isn't quite as hard as I was afraid it would be (my brain hasn't spontaneously combusted yet! ^^), but it's a whole hellalot more time consuming. I spend less time in class than in high school, but probably three times as much time on homework.

I need sleep …

So, yes, that's my little halfwitted roundabout way of explaining why this chapter is so abominably late. I've almost decided to give up on my so-called deadlines altogether … except for the fact that they are helpful. Sometimes. Even if they don't necessarily seem that way.

You may notice that there are no review answers at the end of the chapter. I am continuing to do them; however, I suspected that the chapter was slightly more important and thus, assuming my university's network actually lets me upload this now (*grumblemutter*), I figured going ahead and posting the chapter itself would be preferable.

*yawns* HP doesn't belong to me. And if it did, just now, I'd probably trade it in for the opportunity to get in even two more extra hours of sleep at night. But there's so much else to do . . .

(9/21/2003) Gah! *flails about* Thank you, all you people who have reviewed this chapter already - you inadvertently pointed out a very stupid mistake that I had made. For those of you who have read this chapter already, the only real change I have made is in the date at the end of the chapter: it was supposed to be December 24th.

(10/26/2012) Minor edits and fixing formatting.

# # # Chapter 10 # # #

"Psst! Hey, Harry, wake up …"

"G'way Ron … lemme sleep …"

"Watch where you're swinging that thing, kid! You nearly took my head off!"

Slowly, through sheer force of will, Harry forced himself awake. A comfortable bed … Ron trying to wake him up … had it all been just a dream? Wait, kid?

Of course, at about that point, he opened his eyes on a face that was decidedly not Ron's. "Mr. Evans?"

"Ssh!" The man put a finger to his grinning face. "Do you want to wake everyone else up?"

Harry sat up all the way, pulling the broom onto his lap. Peering at the man through one slit eye, he dryly observed, "Considering that even Lily's still asleep and it's only barely beginning to lighten outside the windows, I really don't want to know what time it is, do I?"

"Most likely not." Lily's father admitted unrepentantly. "But I wanted a chance to speak with you alone."

Harry settled himself in for the long haul. "Oh dear. That sounds … ominous."

That brought a grin to the man's face. "Oh no, nothing like that. It's just … I was digging through some of my grandmother's old stuff last night … and since it is nearly Christmas and all …" He cleared his throat, and suddenly stuck out his hand, a tiny, wrapped box sitting in the center. "Take it. It's an early Christmas present."

"But … you didn't have to …" Harry spluttered as, seeing that he was making no move to take the box, Thomas firmly deposited it in his hand. "I don't …"

"It just made me think of you; it's more a spur-of-the-moment thing than a real present … go on, open it!"

"But …" One last protesting look; futile, from the determined cast to Thomas' face. With a sigh, he gave up, and began the laborious process of carefully unwrapping the gift.

It was … a small box. And inside that box, a ring that made his fingertips tingle when he picked it up to look at it – making sure to keep the other hand on the broom at all times, of course. What seemed at first to be an almost braided-looking pattern engraved in the silvery ring turned out to be, at closer look, delicately wrought scales. On opposing sides of the ring were two snake heads, each swallowing the other's tail. Underneath one snake's head, engraved on the inner side of the ring, Harry thought he saw a letter … perhaps an 'S'? … but it had been considerably worn away.

He cautiously slipped it onto his right ring finger, then gasped as it shrank to fit. "Where –" He squeaked, shook his head, continued, "– where did you say you had gotten this, again?"

Thomas looked vaguely uncomfortable. "Well, my grandmother passed away a while ago and, for some reason, felt that I should be the one to inherit her coffers of jewelry. I go digging through there every now and then, just for fun – it's kind of amazing, the wide variety of gaudy cr – stuff she'd managed to gather over the years. Mostly buying it cheap from pawn shops, I'd guess."

Harry rubbed his thumb against the ring, again feeling that tingling sensation. "Mr. Evans …" he began slowly, "… I'd suggest that you introduce Lily to these coffers sometime. Soon. Make her sit there and go through everything with you."

"… all right. Why?"

"This" he held up his right hand "is of magical origins. If your grandmother was as Muggle as you – and I'm assuming she was – that means that she unintentionally bought at least one magical artifact out of a … well, wherever it was that she bought it, chances are very good that she also bought other magical things. This appears to be harmless … but some of the other stuff might not be."

He looked slightly shaken. "I'll take that into consideration."

Rubbing his thumb on that ring, Harry noted, could very quickly become an exceedingly bad habit of his. "But now … I don't have anything I can give you …"

"That wasn't the point, you know. You don't have to give me anything. I just gave that to you because it reminded me of you … and because, especially during this season, I wanted to make you feel like a part of the family, especially since you don't have a family of your own."

"But I still feel like I ought to give you something too." Harry argued.

A family of your own … The phrase echoed in his mind, and he suddenly knew exactly what present he could give. "Mr. Evans? I think I do have a present for you after all … but you must promise not to tell another living soul. Not your wife, or Lily or Petunia, or any other wizards or witches you may run across … no one."

"Why the secrecy?"

"Because it's something I don't want to become general knowledge. At least … not yet. I probably shouldn't even tell you … but … I feel like you can keep my secret." And I want to tell you … oh, how I want to …

"Is it a harmful secret?"

"No!" That, Harry didn't even have to consider. "In fact, keeping it is probably doing me more harm than telling it would; it's certainly not hurtful to anyone else."

Thomas could probably see Harry's desperate wish to tell almost as easily as Harry; he finally nodded. "I swear on all that's holy to me …" the flash of a grin "… and my hope of someday seeing Hogwarts, that I will never tell your secret to another soul without first gaining your express permission."

Harry took a deep breath, and prodded very carefully at the back of his head. The little Lily-bubble shifted slightly, then returned to snoring. She was still asleep. The silence stretched, until finally, he broke it. "Potter."

"Lily's boyfriend?" What did that have to do with anything?

"That's my surname. I was christened Harry James Potter, first and unfortunately only son of James and Lily Potter."

"My Lily?" The girl's father mouthed, inordinately shocked. Somehow, it had never quite occurred to him that he might actually be part of the spirit's family.

Harry seemed to be trying to hide a smile. "Yes, your Lily." He assured Thomas solemnly.

"I'm … a grandfather?"

Suddenly all traces of the smile were gone; quite evident hesitance took its place. "If you'll have me …"

That's right … he's an orphan, isn't he? And from what I gathered yesterday, his home life is probably not all that great either … he may very well be used to being rejected … That, right there, was more than enough reason to Thomas to make sure that this world was different. Perhaps it was too late for this Harry … but he would not let his daughter's son grow up in a loveless environment if there was anything he could do to stop it.

"Of course." He poured all the conviction he had into those two words. He reached out and gathered the younger man – still a boy, really, despite the age that showed in his eyes – into an intentionally stifling hug. "Welcome to the family, Harry."

"Ouch! Watch where you're swinging that thing!"

# # # # #

"It's snowing!"

Harry grinned silently as he watched his grandfather dance around the room like a child in a toy store. He then stood, reveling in the feeling of standing on his own two feet, in his own body again, if only for a little while, and meandered over to the window. "So it is." He agreed peacefully.

"Well, aren't you excited too? I thought everyone loved snow!"

"It's nice enough, I suppose." Indeed, he now had memories, good memories, of playing in the snow with his friends at Hogwarts. It went a long way in making him revise his opinion of the substance upwards. But they say first impressions are the ones that count most …

Even now, in an ordinary, decidedly non-Hogwarts house, standing there next to his grandfather (his grandfather!), buried deep beneath the contentment, he could feel the old claustrophobic sensations squeezing at his abdomen. To him, for many years, all snow had meant to him was the fact that he was essentially trapped inside … with Dudley.

And even those few times he managed to escape outside, well, Dudley certainly hadn't chased him (too much work, slogging through the snow and battling the cold), but with the sort of clothes he had always worn – not, by any stretch of the imagination, suitable for a great deal of wear outside during the winter – it had been only a short time before he was forced to return inside.

Still, he forced himself to look outside, to watch the near-wall of white falling and to remind himself of the good times. He was safe here, in Lily's house. There would be no one chasing him out into the snow, here.

"… Why?"

I knew it. Harry didn't even bother to use the obvious stalling technique, 'why what?' He knew what Thomas meant … and knew that even if he stalled, Thomas was persistent enough that he'd get an answer out of him eventually. "Because …" he tried, and failed, to organize his thoughts and feelings into something coherent, explainable. "Just because."

"But your last name … it's an indication of your family, of a part of who you are." He shook his head. "I just can't see why you'd be so eager to throw that all away."

Harry sighed, turning to perch on the desk, beginning to twist his ring. "Lily and James died when I was one, and I was sent to live with Petunia. Because of my name, because of 'who my family was' – or, more specifically, what – she and her husband hated me. For ten years I was the freak child, son of two good-for-nothings who were stupid enough to drive drunk. … That's the story they told the neighbors."

His eyes pierced Thomas. "Then, when I turn eleven, I discover a whole new world that I never even suspected existed. Magic was beautiful, wonderful … I was on cloud nine. But," he made a chopping motion, "I still had to return 'home' " the word was invested with such depth of negative emotion that Thomas had to control himself to keep himself from recoiling, "for the rest of the summer and every succeeding summer."

"Furthermore, the wizarding world itself did not turn out to be quite the paradise I was expecting it to be. Expecting to be just another wizard and perhaps, for the first time in my life, actually fit in somewhere … I found myself accorded the status of a child celebrity – I, in the minds of the people of the wizarding world, had saved them all."

He shook his head. "I knew nothing, yet they expected me to know everything, to be some sort of miniature god … either that or they blamed me for the disappearance of their Lord and were out to kill me." A grand gesture. "All because of my name. All because I was, not just Harry, but Harry Potter."

"Can you really blame me for wanting a break now that I'm dead?"

"It seems to me, though, that you've gotten into nearly as big a fix by not telling your last name as you used to be in due to it."

"But even so … even with all the suspicion, I'm still free, don't you see? No one looks at me anymore and wipes a tear from their eye, saying 'Oh, you're just like your father' … no one expects me to be anything like him." He ran his hand through his hair and, in the same motion, suddenly made sure to pat down his bangs. "You probably think the expectations associated with being James and Lily's son from the future would be an easier load to bear than the suspicion I'm currently under … but I don't."

He idly drew a smiley face in the condensation on the window pane, in some odd way welcoming the freezing feeling that overtook his fingertips near to the point of pain. "The way I see it, this is a chance for me to be taken as myself. If Dumbledore now thinks I'm a dark wizard intending to take over the world … so be it. Better that he think that honestly than be influenced into believing I can do no wrong simply because I'm the son of his Golden Boy."

"Furthermore, once my name comes out, so too will my past … and everything that comes with it. I don't know that I can face that again, not now that I know what it's like to be without the adoration, the publicity … the constant stares …"

"Why? Whatever you did, it happens years from now. Why do you think anyone will care?"

"Because my celebrity status was never about what I did, not really. It was about what I was. You see … Lily and James died …"

"… But I lived."

# # # # #

Christmas Eve.

Like the Christmas season in general, Harry loved it … but didn't always like it all that much. The juxtaposition of the good memories of recent years with the earlier bad ones – which he could never quite convince himself weren't the way things were supposed to be – always left him feeling rather confused.

Occasionally glad that usually at least one of his friends went home, so that he'd have that small bit more solitude than usual to wrestle with his feelings … and, in truth, the relative solitude made him feel more comfortable because it was closer to "the way things ought to be".

The warm closeness of a single family Christmas Eve was entirely new to him from either direction. He basked in the warmth, aware of Lily's curiosity but feeling too contented to really care.

Between the niceness of the evening and the feeling of a certain catharsis – he hadn't realized just how much the secrecy had been weighing on him until he noticed how much better he felt now that Thomas knew – even Lily's ever-present niggling suspicion of him and the fact that he couldn't be a real participant in the evening's activities could not put a dent in his mood.

Of course, he ought to have known that thinking thoughts and feeling emotions like that was the surest way to ruin an otherwise idyllic situation. It almost never failed.

Dinner was long over, they had just finished singing carols around the tree – Petunia, who evidently found this activity juvenile in the extreme, with a mutinous look on her face. Thomas turned to his daughters. "Well? You know the rule – one present each. Which shall it be?"

This, evidently, was another long-held family tradition … certainly not one Petunia was even tacitly objecting to, though. For the first time, Harry was distinctly reminded of Dudley as he watched Petunia dive into the pile headfirst, carefully judging each present. He almost expected her to burst out with a "But I had one more last year!", the resemblance was so strong.

Except she still managed to be more polite about it than Dudley ever had been.

Urgh. Just thinking about the lard ball was giving him a headache. And here he had hoped that dying would have allowed him to escape from the Dursleys for good at last. At least he didn't have to deal with Petunia directly. She was definitely more bearable now, but there were still some very obvious personality traits that remained the same.

Odd, that he could find it within himself to forgive and even make friends with the boy who would later be, arguably, directly responsible for the murder of his parents, yet not the woman who had played an integral part in his life for ten years.

Lily had finished unwrapping her first present, a tiny, very intricate lily that looked like it was made to attach to a charm bracelet – one of which, come to think of it, Harry was pretty sure he remembered hanging from something or another in Lily's room. He could feel her cheeks heat up; it was obviously James' gift.

:What are you so happy about?: She asked; one of the first times she had actually deigned to speak with him at any length the entire day.

Harry was feeling contented, yes, but he had been like that all day; it was certainly nothing worth remarking upon by now. Yet … bubbling up in the back of his mind, now that Lily had brought his attention to it, clashing with his feelings of peace, was a fierce, triumphant joy. One that he found disturbingly, frighteningly familiar.

No wonder he had a headache!

:Lily. Go grab a broom. Now.:

:Why?: She asked. :It's not like you have a present to open under here, so what's the point in exposing yourself to Petunia and Mum?:

Had he been corporeal, Harry would have closed his eyes and counted to ten. Very quickly. :Look. If you won't let me take control, then at least please go to the front door and check around outside for me.:

:Why?:

:Because … there's no time to explain. Just do it!:

:Oh, come on. Who would be out in this neighborhood at this time of night?:

Harry literally growled. On the verge of launching into a furious diatribe, he froze as the doorbell rang. His headache had been increasing – focused, of course, in a particular spot on his imaginary forehead – and the feeling of triumph was growing. :Never mind, don't go to the door after all. Turn off all the lights and pretend you're not home.:

Petunia, still carefully detaching the paper from around her present (another way in which she diverged from Dudley's behaviour, to Harry's relief), didn't even bother to look up. Thomas looked like he was about to rise when Lily, perhaps infected at last with Harry's sense of urgency, sprang to her feet. "I'll get it." :I don't know what you're so worried about, but surely it can't be that bad.:

:Do you have your wand?:

:Of course. What, did you think I would have left it at Hogwarts?:

:Where is it?:

:On my bedside table, where it's been all vacation. Where else?:

Oh crap …

Lily opened the door, coming face to face with a tall, hooded man. Shaking the hood back, he revealed slick black hair, green eyes that somehow managed to hold a demonic edge, and a slowly growing smirk. "Well, my friends, look what we have here. A fitting end to a perfect Christmas Eve, don't you think?"

Unconsciously mimicking Harry's thought of only moments before, if for a slightly different reason, Lily stumbled back and gulped. Oh crap.

# # # # #

Between the black cloaks and Lily's reaction – he had never seen her as afraid as this of anything or anyone – Thomas took only moments to deduce that this was the notorious Voldemort. He looked … younger, more handsome and more all-around human than the Muggle had expected. Then again, his vivid imagination had managed to invent something more embarrassingly similar to the monsters hiding under the bed that he had been afraid of as a child (he wondered, did they actually exist?) than any humanoid being had any right to be, anyway.

There were four black cloaks other than the man he assumed was Voldemort; most likely the favored few in this case. All four had their wands out, two pointed at Lily, the other two in the general direction of the rest of the family, gathered around the tree. Anger boiled in him, a fury that was rooted in his feelings of helplessness. He would die, as would his entire family … and for what? The amusement of a megalomaniacal monster with delusions of grandeur?

The central man himself brought out his wand in a leisurely fashion, waving it lazily in Lily's general direction. "Imperio."

/"The three Unforgivables? What're those?"

"Three spells that guarantee you a life sentence in Azkaban – far worse than death, to my mind – if you're caught using them." Harry shuddered. "I already told you about the Killing Curse. The other two are the Imperius Curse and the Cruciatus Curse. Cruciatus inflicts horrendous pain and Imperius allows one total control over the mind of one's victim."

"As far as I know, the Imperius is the only one that can be fought off. It just takes strength of will … and the unwillingness to stay under control even when it's so nice and peaceful that way. No worries. No cares. Just peace."

And looking at Harry, Thomas had to wonder if the young man had ever experienced 'just peace' in his life. /

The feeling of helplessness grew, as he watched his daughter fall under the spell without pause. Could she fight off the Imperius, when this was the first time it had ever been put on her? Did she even know that it was possible, as Harry had claimed it was?

Harry. Determination washed away the helplessness when he realized there was something he could do. For, as Voldemort ordered Lily to kill them – her own family! – and she turned, eyes blank, to do just that, it seemed less and less likely that she would be able to effectively resist. But Harry could.

He ducked in through the kitchen door, thankfully not too far, hating every moment that he felt he was betraying Gladys and Petunia by leaving them to face the controlled Lily alone. Casting around the kitchen, he found the supplies closet, reemerging with broom in hand. Sure in his faith that Harry would be able to do what Lily, it seemed, could not and get them out of this mess … because without that faith he had nothing, no hope left.

What if Harry hadn't been here? Suddenly, Thomas was sure he knew exactly when and where he and his wife had died … and considering where that led, to Lily's death and a situation for Harry that, even from what little he had gathered, was completely untenable, he was more determined than ever to find some way to survive.

For all our sakes … I hope Harry can pull this off.

# # # # #

He was drowning again, smothered by that sensation he had hoped he would never be forced to feel again. Powerful, much more powerful than ever before – he had made a mistake in assuming that this Voldemort's power levels would be the same as those of one only newly reborn after being almost completely out of commission for thirteen and a half years. Even buffered by Lily's presence – for it was quite obvious she was bearing the brunt of the spell – he could very easily feel the difference in just the strength of this one spell.

It had taken him a bit longer, then, to regain his senses as he struggled against the tempting peace that he knew in his heart could not – could never – be real, but he managed in time to hear the order that he had known, and feared, that Voldemort would give. In time to feel the body he inhabited moving forward mindlessly … for, indeed, Lily's mind seemed to have totally disconnected from her body; she instead seemed to be quite involved in a dream involving herself, a field of flowers, and, of course, James.

He threw himself against that dream, hoping against hope that he could somehow penetrate and snap her back into sense. Wishing there was something he could do as he found himself trapped, helpless, with no way out. About to murder the one person he had trusted everything to, who was so much more than a mere relation to him. So it would not be his fault … so what? The death would still rest on his conscience, so very heavily …

The way his post-death experiences had been so far, possibly for the rest of eternity …

But Thomas was escaping, dashing into the kitchen. One of the Death Eaters – the one to his right –evidently had hair-trigger nerves; a flash of red light struck the corner of the door only moments after the older man passed through it. Go. Harry thought, desperately. Let your death, at least, be put off until another day. Don't return … please don't do the 'honorable' thing and return …

Of course, around that point, he remembered something he had previously chosen to forget: the kitchen had no doors that would open to the outside.

Then Thomas was coming back out of the kitchen again, poised in front of wife and other daughter, a broom in his hands.

A broom.

Could it be …?

Indeed, he threw it in Lily's direction; Harry's heart leapt … only to fall to his metaphysical feet when, not having been ordered to, Lily didn't even attempt to reach out, just let the broom bounce off and clatter to the floor. So close … So perhaps he wouldn't be able to effectively stand up to Voldemort either – and certainly not without his wand. At least he wouldn't be so thrice-damned helpless!

"What a … deliciously quaint idea." Voldemort's hated voice, as if through an aural fog. "Child, why don't you pick up that broom your father so nicely gave you and kill him with it?"

Yes! Thomas smiled slightly, and Harry, unconstrained by the need to think about controlling his face, let loose a brilliant grin. You just screwed yourself over again, m'Lord.

Now that hope was returning, so were ideas. By the time Lily had completed the motion of picking up the broom, Harry already had a plan in place and ready. As soon as he gained control, capitalizing on the confusion his presence caused, Harry swung around, stabbing the Death Eater to his right with the tip of the broom handle as hard as he could – serves him right, trying to curse my grandfather! – causing the man to double over and drop his wand … a wand that Harry was more than happy to pick up.

He knew he couldn't face Voldemort and four Death Eaters, by himself, with any hope at all of winning. Yet how could he call in backup? What backup could he call in, considering that Dumbledore might decide that he had also been 'lying' about his hatred of Voldemort?

And then, of course, it came to him. He remembered the World Cup the previous summer; if people had reacted so quickly then, during a time of supposed peace … Grinning at Voldemort – and hoping the pain flaring from his head didn't distort the expression into too much of a grimace – who was only just beginning to erase the evidence of astonishment in his expression, Harry raised his wand – well, fine, the Death Eater's wand – high.

"Morsmordre!"

"What did you do that for?" Voldemort hissed. "Who are you?"

Despite the far greater power, Harry somehow found it nearly impossible to be afraid of this man who didn't even look like the monster he was inside. His lips twitched. Maybe he could blame the adrenaline. "Hello, I'm Not Stupid. Pleasure to meet you."

Behind him, his heart warmed as he heard Thomas laugh. At least someone had found it funny. Then again … as he watched Voldemort's face grow almost literally fuschia in rage, it occurred to him that that might not have been the brightest idea ever. "Kill him." The Dark Lord's eyes narrowed as he ordered.

That was going entirely too far. Harry stepped back, crossing his arms defiantly – though he made sure that he kept a firm grip on both wand and broom. It wouldn't do to lose either at this stage in the game. "Over my dead body." He replied coldly. Let's just ponder the relevance of that statement some other time, okay?

This made Voldemort laugh. "You think so, do you, boy? Imperio."

It was as bad as he had been afraid of … or perhaps worse. Lily, who had only just been beginning to rouse from the daze induced by both the remnants of the Imperius Curse the change had broken and the abrupt change itself, was instantly sent back to dreamland. An interesting effect of the curse, he thought; it was actually rather interesting to see how different people (or at least, a different person) reacted to the curse differently.

He was submerged for a moment, the pull of peace too strong. But … I knew when I cast that curse that I could be consigning myself to an eternity of unhappiness. I knew that and I accepted it. It would tarnish what I did before if I were to succumb now. And then Voldemort made his second fatal mistake – ordering Harry to kill Thomas.

Like bloody hell I will! He came roaring out of the curse, shattering it with a vengeance. Pivoted slowly on his toes to once again face Voldemort. "Like I said. Over. My. Dead. Body."

"That can be arranged."

"I'll see you dead first." Harry smiled calmly. You're certainly never going to see my dead body . . . and I've already seen you dead once. I'd say that puts me up one, greater power or not.

"A child like you, defeat me? Do you not know who I am, foolish boy?"

Harry smirked. "Oh, I know exactly who you are, Tom Marvolo Riddle."

The man froze. "Who. Are. You?"

"And wouldn't you like to know?"

"Amazing. I never thought the day would come when I again agreed with Mr. Riddle about anything." Dumbledore walked down the stairs, power streaming around him in a tightly controlled aura.

:He came!:

Harry closed his eyes briefly. It seemed he had underestimated Lily … he never would have believed that she could hoodwink him so completely. :How very Slytherin of you, Miss Evans.: He lilted, doing his best to mimic Professor Snape at his most disdainful.

:Do you think you could hang around a few minutes after you're expelled from my body?: She asked sweetly. :Because as of right now, I'm getting the oddest urge to punch you.:

"Well, well. What do we have here?" Voldemort looked like he was contemplating rubbing his hands together in maniacal glee. "Is the mysterious child not in good with the Headmaster of Hogwarts? And here I had you pegged for a perfect little Gryffindor Golden Boy."

"Don't worry, Voldemort. My hatred for you far outstrips any distrust I might have for our esteemed Headmaster." A look. "Of course, you must understand that at this point, I trust the Headmaster about as far as I could throw a Bludger."

"Pity. I admire a certain amount of spunk."

Harry let his disgusted expression do the speaking for itself. "I don't suppose it occurred to you to bring along a few Aurors, Headmaster?"

:Honestly, what sort of crap reaction time is this? The Dark Mark has been floating in the sky for at least five, ten minutes now.:

:Is that what that incantation you said means? How did you learn it? You really are Dark, aren't you?:

:Yes, I heard someone else use it, and no. Grow up, Lily.:

"Why would I do that? I certainly wasn't expecting you to be entertaining more visitors." Barmy old coot time. Harry and Voldemort shot him identical looks of disgust – possibly the one thing they did agree on.

"So what's your favorite color, Voldemort?" Now it was the Dark Lord and the Headmaster staring at Harry like he was absolutely nuts. He shrugged. "What? Just trying to make conversation."

"You're stalling."

A wintry smile. "What was your first clue? I'd think that would have been the obvious conclusion, after you saw me shoot the Dark Mark."

"So that was your plan. And here I thought you were simply acting like a fool Gryffindor, challenging five powerful adult wizards."

Harry twirled his stolen wand mockingly. "I don't know. I'm just counting four, right now."

"Ingenious. Are you sure you wouldn't consider …?"

:You're going to become a Death Eater and kill us all!:

:Shut UP, Lily.:

"Let's revise my earlier statement. Over your dead body."

"A pity indeed." Voldemort shrugged. "Well, such is life. Perhaps you ought to remember to factor in the appalling response time of Aurors next time. They usually appear around half an hour after we finish cleaning up … such as we ever do."

Still the wintry smile. "I'll remember that next time."

Voldemort glanced at the clock. "However, it seems that even that oh-so-generous grace period is rapidly winding its way to an end. So with that, I shall bid you adieu."

"You never did tell me your favorite color." Harry interjected swiftly.

"You never did tell me your name, you annoying little brat." Voldemort mocked.

They stared at each other.

Glared. One could almost feel the sparks jumping between their eyes.

"Burgundy." "Harry."

"What, no last name?"

"I don't see you exactly parading your own around, Riddle."

"Touché. Well, Harry, I'm sure I'll see you around."

"Maybe, maybe not. But I can guarantee you won't escape that round nearly as unscathed at this."

"How odd. That was exactly what I was about to say to you."

They shared highly insincere smiles. "I'm looking forward to dancing on your grave, Voldemort."

"In your dreams." And he disappeared. As if they were taking that as a cue, the four Death Eaters Apparated away as well – one of them, Harry noted gleefully, still without his wand.

And, at last, Dumbledore turned his full attention to Harry. Feeling that he had had enough confrontation for one night, the black-haired former-Gryffindor took the easy way out, and let the broom fall.

# # # # #

In retrospect, Harry admitted, relinquishing control had not been one of the brightest ideas he'd ever had. He'd forgotten – again – that Lily was evidently quite deep in cahoots with Dumbledore as far as he was concerned.

Leading to his current situation: immobilized, one hand trapped around a broomstick so that there was no chance of ducking out again; watching as the Headmaster approached him with a small vial of clear liquid that he would have bet his life was a truth potion of some sort. Veritaserum, perhaps? It did look a lot like the vial Professor Snape had threatened him with earlier in the year.

Well, there was one benefit, at least, to this situation. He waited quietly, knowing he could hardly do anything else, for Dumbledore to finish putting the three droplets on his tongue. Unexpectedly, he felt his mind filling with fog … almost as if it were the Imperius Curse in liquid form, ordering him to tell the truth.

Except this was a variant of the Imperius that he had no experience in, or even idea how to, combat. Still, he hung desperately to those few scraps of his mind he was able to retain, remembering that there was something he had to say. "I … swear …"

But curses, it had come out so faintly that he doubted anyone had heard, and for the life of him he could continue no further than that.

"What was that?" Dumbledore asked.

Score! For the first time in quite a while, Harry felt a burst of fondness for this Headmaster. "I swear that I mean no serious harm to Hogwarts or any of its inhabitants." He had done it! The thought would have brought a smile to his face, had he not been so far under. Debate that, you old coot.

"I see. Well, to business. State your name."

"Harry." Another burst of pleasure. He had done it! It certainly wasn't a lie, after all … and he actually saw himself more as Harry than he had ever truly identified himself with this Harry Potter person, so in a way it was actually more truthful than the literal truth.

Somehow, he got the idea that trying to figure out that particular conundrum would make his head hurt even if he wasn't trying to strain to keep as much control of himself as possible and suffering under the lingering remnants of his scar headache.

Dumbledore examined him through narrowed eyes. The twinkle was still there, oddly enough … it only served to focus his expression even further. "Why is it that you are unwilling to tell us your last name?"

"I don't want to." Also perfectly true, and perfectly unhelpful. This stuff, while hard to circumvent, to think through, was not impossible. Harry suspected it was not Veritaserum after all, considering that he had heard that resisting that was completely impossible.

The Headmaster seemed to abandon that tack for the moment. "I have been curious for quite a while … how did you know about the Chamber of Secrets?"

Okay. That was a hard one. "I … in my second year, the Chamber was reopened. I recognized some of the signs." I so do not need him finding out that I'm a Parselmouth.

"And when you said it was safe again?"

"Oh, that. I took care of the problem."

"That's right … what exactly was that little book you incinerated?" A new voice. Had he not been so doped up on truth potion, Harry would most likely have jumped as Snape leaned forward out of the shadows near the wall. They were not so deep, after all … by all rights, he should have noticed the Slytherin a long time ago.

"A cursed diary containing the memories of Tom Riddle, created, I think, shortly after his opening of the Chamber of Secrets in his fifth year."

"So he was the one who did it!" Dumbledore crowed. "I don't suppose you have any proof?"

"Just my memories … and no, there is no way in hell I'd willingly let you get your hands on them." The whole Heir to Slytherin debacle … oh yeah, that would go over real well.

"We shall leave that particular conversation for another time, then." The silver-haired old man agreed genially. "Now. You will tell me your full name."

No! Behind, he thought he could see Snape mouthing 'I'm sorry'; the Slytherin looked the picture of someone unbearably frustrated by their helplessness, and he longed to reassure his (somehow, as strange as it seemed) friend-of-sorts that he did not blame him … it would be foolish to betray his allegiance now, when the shock value might be far more effectively put to use at a later date and when there was, at the moment, nothing he could reasonably do.

Gee, Harry, are you sure you were put into Gryffindor to begin with? For hardly associating with him at all, this time around, Snape sure seems to have rubbed off on you, hasn't he?

He could feel his mouth opening and intensified his struggles; there was no way he was going to let his secret slip. Not now, like this, after all the effort he had put into keeping it.

"Harry Ja-" With a final, desperate heave, he wrenched himself up, out, and away. :So sorry Lily … looks like you won't get that chance to punch my face in after all.:

And the world surrounding him swirled and disappeared.

This time, when he reappeared in a different place in independent ghost form, he didn't even bother wasting the time to be surprised at the fact that he was once again not quite yet consigned to whatever he assumed would be his eventual, final fate. Instead, he scoped out his surroundings.

The sky was quite dark, in a threatening-rain sort of way; needless to say it fit Harry's current mood rather well. The surroundings shot a thrill of adrenaline through him at first … he wondered if he'd ever again be able to see a graveyard without remembering the events of that night. Yet this was not that graveyard, so after a moment he relaxed.

It was a rather morbid thought, he admitted, but he actually felt quite … at peace here. He would not want to remain here forever – he somehow got the idea that he would be violently allergic to peace in too large of doses – but it was a nice respite.

He sank to only a couple of inches above the ground, idly twisting his ring –a shadowy version of which, he had been ecstatic to note, had made the change with him.

Slowly, his eyes focused on the gravestone directly in front of him. Again, it was morbid – he had had enough contact with death firsthand that he really didn't want to add to his pain by knowing about yet another death. Yet … with the gravestone sitting right there in front of him, he found it nearly impossible to not read.

The twisting of his ring slowed to a stop as both hands fell slack to his side; his eyes filled with spectral silvery tears that he refused to shed.

Thomas Michael Evans
August 12, 1939 - December 24, 1977
Beloved son, husband, and father
Rest in Peace

21 September 2003
8 January 2004
2 October 2011
6 September 2012