Sirius halted and his nose twitched as he sniffed the cool morning air. Harry's scent was faint, almost non-existent, but Sirius wagged his tail all the same as he scanned the far side of the riverbank. Sure enough, faint paw prints led away from the waters edge before they disappeared into the nearby hedgerow.
"Min, I think we're getting close."
As always, his bark was met with no response.
Sirius placed his belly against the ground and straightened his ears. The nearest village was about a mile back down the hillside, yet Sirius stayed watching and waiting for an hour before he released Mintaka from his hold.
There was a scuffle and a growl as Sirius fell back into his own scratched and bruised skin. He had only seconds to prepare.
Mintaka was rabid, her eyes ferocious as she snarled. Sirius took a hesitant step back into the long grass, his palms open and his arms wide.
"Min, it's me-"
But Mintaka wasn't listening and she dug her hind legs into the mud and lunged.
Sirius leapt back, but it was not enough as sharp teeth ripped across his shoulder. He howled as his already weak body slumped to the ground. Sirius grabbed his dæmons scruff, but any attempt to yank her away failed.
Sirius reached out with his other hand and entwined his fingers into his dæmons mattered fur. Mintaka's jaw slackened, but she didn't draw away as blood pooled in her mouth.
She was getting worse. At least in Azkaban they had suffered together, but now Sirius dully wondered if he'd pushed his dæmon too far.
All the while, Mintaka stayed attached to his arm as the blood continued to seep down his shoulder. It was only minutes later when she finally whimpered and dipped her tail between her legs.
Sirius forced a weary smile onto his face as she withdrew.
Mintaka didn't return the welcome. Instead, she eyed up the his newest gash. She dropped her head, her voice coming out in a low growl.
"I'm going to end up killing you."
Sirius flashed her another weak smile and battered her gently on the nose.
"I can handle it."
Mintaka's ears flattened as she pressed her own tongue up against Sirius' shoulder and began to nurse it clean.
"We need to stay separated. Weeks is dangerous enough, but months-" Mintaka said. "If you would just let me track her instead-"
But Sirius shook his head as he teased his fingers into her fur.
"You're too weak, Min and you know it. And her scent is close. It'll be weeks before we get a chance like this again."
Sirius looked back to the small paw prints across the bank.
"We can't give up now, Min. We have to find her, for Harry's sake."
It was Harry's birthday. But there was no celebration, and the only recognition Harry had received had been one single sheet of parchment that had just arrived.
Happy Birthday, Harry. Write me back, Draco.
Draco's eagle owl had since retreated to a perch in a nearby tree and she looked quite content as she rested, undisturbed by the large tentacles which lazily broke the lake waters surface.
Tom was sprawled out on the grass as the morning sun beamed down. But what little warmth that would have reached their spot on the bank was swallowed up by Harry's surrounding chill.
"I wouldn't bother," Tom muttered with his eyes still shut. "It'll be sent on Voldemort's orders, Draco doesn't even know you're alive."
But that was exactly why Harry was still holding his quill as his absent heart twisted in whatever blackness it was consumed in.
"I know that," Harry said quietly as his fingers creased around the single torn edge. He wrote so very slowly.
I hope you found her.
But that was all Harry could manage as he watched the words sink into the familiar parchment.
Tom's eyes flicked open. He exhaled and his breath fogged up in front of him.
The air temperature plummeted another few degrees and a layer of frost began to form on each blade of grass. When Harry stayed silent, Tom prodded him sharply in the side.
Harry's withered hand crumpled around the parchment and he stuffed it into his pocket. He didn't dare look at Tom, so instead Harry stared out across the glistening trail across the lake.
"Lyra's link is so clear."
The golden dust was so bright, and not even the sun shining in his good eye could detract from where Harry's dæmon was truly hidden.
Tom's eyes sat up, an odd expression on his face. It took a moment for Tom to respond.
"You know we can't," he said quietly.
Harry swallowed hard and his chill extended so that icy patterns began to creep across the waters edge.
"I left you in that Chamber, Tom. You would have stayed there for eternity because I was weak. I won't do the same again. I won't abandon Lyra, not now-"
"And when you do find her," Tom's gaze flicked deliberately over Harry's ashen skin before pausing on his dead eye. "What will you do with her?"
Harry glared at him.
"I'm not going to hurt her!"
Tom raised an eyebrow at this.
"I'm not-" Harry protested.
Tom shifted closer so that they were only inches apart. His lips twisted into a sad, knowing smile.
Hot breath washed over Harry's face as his chill danced across Tom's exposed skin. Tom shivered, but he didn't draw away. If anything he pressed himself closer, teasing almost as his lips brushed against Harry's.
"Are you sure?" Tom whispered.
Harry twisted his head away, biting back the darkness which engrossed him.
"That's not fair."
Tom didn't shift back, instead his hand weaved to grip tightly around Harry's wrist and when he spoke, his voice was nothing but cold.
"Do not mistake our closeness for what you'll achieve with Lyra."
Harry bristled, his gaze lingering on the wand held idly in Tom's other fingers. Lyra was his alone, and no one could keep her from him, not even Tom.
Harry reached forwards and coiled his free hand around the front of Tom's robes.
"But you can help me," Harry said, his own voice soft but just as cold.
Tom attempted to move back and his grip tightened ever so slightly around his wand.
"I make you less erratic," Tom agreed slowly. "But do not think I'm capable of removing your instincts completely. If allowed, you would destroy every dæmon at any opportunity, and that includes Lyra."
Harry's lips curled slightly at this, and Tom's eyes held a sadness which burned across their connection.
It was so easy.
Harry jerked Tom forwards, catching him off balance as he threw his own weight forwards. Tom jabbed his wand forwards, but he could say nothing as Harry lent forwards to met him.
Harry's own lips brushed over Tom's and Harry wondered if he would ever be able to tease out Tom's impossible soul.
"Lyra is mine," Harry breathed. "And you will not keep her from me."
But his words fell on deaf ears.
Tom had gone deadly still and his face was so sickly and pale. The only indication that he was unharmed was the small flutter as his chest rose and fell sharply.
Harry fell back and clamped his hands over his mouth. He wanted Lyra, so badly he wanted, but this was so twisted and wrong.
But Tom eyes were unfocused as his lip trembled. His eyes remained shut.
It wasn't right.
Harry's own breath was freezing against what small patches of human skin remained and Tom had no means to protect himself from Harry's deadly thaw. But the possibility of a happy thought was impossible.
Tom's wand remained tight in his hand and the only evidence that Tom was conscious was when it twitched slightly.
Harry dared to reach out.
Tom flinched but he didn't draw away. Instead it looked like he was forcing himself to not to flee as his muscles stiffened and his eyes peeled open.
Harry pulled his own hand back.
"I-I didn't mean to-"
But Tom was still determined to make his point.
"Just imagine if I was Lyra-" Tom whispered.
Harry stared down at his golden link, spilling out from his empty chest. Lyra had never felt so close and yet her absence was just as raw as the day she'd left. Harry's good eye swelled as his throat burned. Lyra wouldn't stand a chance.
"What does it feel like?" Harry whispered. "When I-"
Tom's eyes shone with the most intense fear that broke Harry's absent heart.
This could not go on. Which meant there was only one option left.
"So we stay at Hogwarts and cooperate with the Ministry?" Harry relented.
Tom nodded once and drew his own arms around himself. If anything he was staring blankly across the lake as he ran his other hand absently through his hair.
"We can't do this on our own, Harry."
Harry opened his mouth, but the calming hum that Tom had managed to enclose them both in stayed his chill. If anything, the surrounding frost had began to thaw as Tom took Harry's withered palm in his.
Harry's dared not breathe as he spoke.
"What about Voldemort?"
Tom visibly stiffened at this but any response was lost on Harry as he twisted around suddenly. He stared in the direction of the entrance gates. In a moment, he was on his feet, only stayed by Tom's wand which caught him around the midriff.
"They're here already-" Harry said as he stared in the direction of the entrance gates.
Sure enough, a dozen dæmons had appeared, each dazzling and more tempting than the last.
The Great Hall was lined with aurors and more importantly dæmons.
But more interestingly, there was a dæmon Harry had never seen before. She was monstrous, an enormous wolf which was the height of the wizard she was standing beside, while her golden particles danced around the wizard in erratic movements. Their link splintered off, and the wizard looked like he had small golden dust which clung to his skin. It was mesmerising and Harry took a direct step forwards.
Tom's own hand wound around Harry's wrist as he tugged him back to his side, leading him into the center of the hall where Scrimgeour waited.
Nala was a few steps behind the auror and her pupils narrowed to slits as she bared her claws.
"Are you ready?" Scrimgeour asked.
But Harry wasn't interested in the aurors or their dæmons.
"Who's he?" Harry asked.
Another unknown man was knelt on the floor. He had thick chains that weaved tightly up to large shackles locked around his neck and wrists. Behind him two aurors had their wands trained at his buffalo dæmon who also had secure rings around its thick neck.
Harry hadn't noticed this dæmon at first, her light was so dull compared to every other in the room. But that wasn't the only difference. The buffalo's dust wouldn't settle, it bled outwards in erratic directions which seemed to pull towards Harry in a single rattling breath.
The man looked torn between absolute terror and confusion as his eyes terrified flicked between Harry, Tom and Scrimgeour.
"Someone who was been sentenced to the dementor's kiss," Scrimgeour said.
Harry's mouth split into a delirious smile and he couldn't help but let his eyes roam over the dæmon's faded light. She wasn't his first choice, but she'd do.
"You'll let me-?"
"Dementors react positively to the promise of souls," Scrimgeour said gruffly. "We're assuming it's going to be the same for you."
Now Harry was definitely interested as he shifted closer, his breath harrowing.
Scrimgeour nodded to Tom, who took a deep breath of his own.
He squeezed Harry's hand gently and pulled back slightly.
"You're going to be on your own-"
Harry gripped Tom's wrists fiercely.
"Don't you dare," Harry snarled. "You swore-"
"We'll still be connected," Tom said quickly. "But I won't be helping you. They just want to see how you react while I'm not interfering."
Harry didn't let go. Tom leant closer, so that his mouth was right by his ear.
"Harry, it'll be okay," Tom whispered. Harry saw the briefest of winks.
Tom pried his fingers from Harry's own as he stepped back. But Tom was still there, his calming control screaming across their connection. So much so that Harry didn't immediately hunt down his prey.
Only it didn't last long, Tom's influence was already strained by their lack of direct contact. And then in a moment the dæmon was right before Harry, and his darkness took hold.
The man screamed and his dæmon stomped its hooves.
It must have been barbaric to anyone but Harry. To Harry it was perfection, to see this dæmon's light coiling towards himself.
Nala leapt between him and his prey, along with the shinning bright white lights of the other few patronus'. Harry halted, his breath recoiling as he glared at the untouchable souls and the dæmon that was snatched from him.
Scrimgeour sighed and pinched his nose with his fingers.
"You have to actually try, Potter," Scrimgeour said.
Harry flicked him a twisted smile as he shrugged all too innocently.
"Fine, what's the deal?"
Harry's dead eye scanned over the buffalo dæmon and her damaged form.
"She's not worth one hour," Harry countered.
"One hour," Scrimgeour repeated. "Then she's all yours."
Tom retreated the edge of the hall, just far enough so that he could reach Harry if necessary. But Harry was already distracted, his hunger overpowering in every sense that it left Tom's own attention drifting to the other dæmons in the room. It was unnerving, Tom didn't know if this was normal or not. Dementors were meant to be relatively stable, but Harry was truly something else entirely.
Someone walked up beside him and took a seat on one of the house benches which had been pushed up against the wall.
"You're coping very well," Dumbledore said.
Tom clenched his fists, resisting the temptation to pull out his wand and cut the headmaster down.
"What do you want?" Tom snapped.
"We can't help Harry if you don't let go completely," Dumbledore said.
"I'm not interfering. You said it yourself, Harry has a good resolve."
And Harry was definitely coping okay. He seemed to be almost toying with the buffalo, just to satisfy Scrimgeour. It was still promising though, anything that would hold off Harry's primal instincts.
But the wispy dæmon could only hold Harry's attention for so long and it was apparent his true desire was elsewhere.
"Potter seems rather taken with Niamh," Moody said as he hobbled up beside Dumbledore. Moody nodded towards the other stranger in the room.
"Who is he?" Tom asked. The man was standing at the other end of the hall, he was dressed in tattered clothes and had a wolf dæmon beside him.
"Professor Remus Lupin," Dumbledore said. "He's our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher."
Tom raised an eyebrow.
"What happened to Lockhart?"
"We thought it was more appropriate to have someone capable of dealing with Potter should the need arise," Moody grunted.
Tom glared at the auror and his own wand sparked.
"I already said I would stop Harry if necessary."
Moody's blue eye flicked away from Harry only for a moment.
"Every precaution is required," Moody grunted.
"Professor Lupin will be giving private lessons to yourself and Harry," Dumbledore explained. "He's one of the few wizards that can relate to what Harry is experiencing."
"He doesn't look very demented," Tom said dryly.
Dumbledore smiled slightly.
"Every full moon Professor Lupin is forced to take the form of his dæmon who will transform into something much more savage and dangerous."
Tom raised his eyebrows at this as he looked at the large wolf with much more interest.
But Dumbledore wasn't finished.
"Harry will also be starting Occulumency lessons with Professor Snape."
Tom's anger thrummed across their connection that even Harry who had been so absorbed with the dæmons in front of him, stopped and looked their way.
"No. You've done enough digging around in Harry's mind, I'm not having a Death Eater-" Tom started.
Moody snorted at this as his gnarled face split into the most frightful grin. Dumbledore however only sighed heavily as tired eyes blinked behind half moon glasses.
"What has Lord Voldemort told you of Professor Snape?"
Tom didn't answer, but he didn't need to as he glared at them both.
"I would ask that you do not antagonise Professor Snape," Dumbledore said. "His help is a great value and it would be wise to heed his advise. I can assure you, Professor Snape has only Harry's benefit at heart-"
But Tom's attention snapped away, he knew what was going to happen a second too late.
Harry lunged suddenly, his feet ripping from the ground as his patience wavered. It was only Tom who was spared Harry icy clutch as the room faded of all warmth. But the dæmons had been ready, each reacting as one as they moved to protect Harry's prey.
The chained man fell sobbing as the dæmons moved to protect him.
Across the hall, Harry's dead eye seemed to pierce through every soul as Tom took a step towards him.
Tom paused and looked back to Dumbledore. He dared not ask.
"How long was that?"
Dumbledore pulled out an old golden pocket watch.
Tom shut his eyes as his heart pounded. If Harry was ever to get Lyra back, he'd need all the help he could get.
"Fine," Tom relented. "But one wrong move from Snape and I'll kill him myself."
Riddle hummed, his eyes alight as long awaited words rushed through his very existence. He had been patient, had known that it could only be a matter of time, but to have the words written before him was satisfying confirmation.
The drawing room of Malfoy Manor was dark, had been locked in more ways than Riddle personally thought was necessary, but his Lord would take no chances. Not when his most treasured was hidden so close.
And Riddle waited, his own excitement rising as he itched to respond. But he had strict instructions and it was not worth replying, not yet anyway.
Voldemort entered the drawing room silently. His robes flowed around his new skeletal body as his red eyes seared through the dim candle light. He came to a halt in front of an enchanted table which had Riddle's diary resting upon it. But the Dark Lord had no welcome as he stroked a single spidery finger down its spine, teasing open its pages to reveal the freshly written words.
I hope you found her.
Voldemort's fingers traced over the inked scrawl, as his gaze sharpened.
Riddle didn't react. There was only one order his Lord could truly give now.
"You are playing a dangerous game," Voldemort hissed softly. "If the boy had not survived-"
Riddle only smiled, his lips curling as he idly twirled Potter's wand between his fingers.
"Then I would have lost nothing," Riddle said mildly.
"Nothing," Voldemort hissed. "And yet, you have given our enemies the evidence of my rebirth, the awareness of your existence, and not forgetting, the true nature of what you and Tom really are, all for what-"
Riddle didn't flinch, if anything his demeanour shifted as his face twisted into something unpleasant.
"She is worth everything. Or have you really become so disillusioned with your own soul that you would leave her in that state-"
Riddle was silenced with a fierce flick of Voldemort's own wand, cutting down in a thunderous wave of magic.
"And if Potter will not cooperate?" Voldemort hissed.
Black sparks spat from Riddle's own grip as he levelled the wand.
"He will for me."
Voldemort's scarlet eyes flashed, his expression unreadable, testing almost as he surveyed his soul and the diary's new words.
There was a moment where neither of them spoke.
Voldemort's fingers curved around the diary's spine as he pulled it out of its protective hold. He flicked the pages over to where the single page had been torn out. A fresh layer of ink was seeping to the parchments exposed surface. A form of a small pine marten danced across the crease, treading lightly across its ethereal background. Voldemort's command was clear as he pressed it into Riddle's waiting hands. .
"Bring her to me."