It would really help to read the two works preceding this one in the series as this segues from both (and merges the universes). In case one doesn't have the time right now, the quick-and-dirty situation is this: This is post-series. Everyone is dead. Everyone is hanging out in this other dimension, sort-of after life. Neither Tom or Anakin has any idea why they're in limbo, but they're there anyway, trapped with memories of their life. For two people with a mountain pile of unpleasant memories, the situation is a pain in the backside indeed.
Again, any comments, feedback and insight are much appreciated.
Part 3 of the Series 'Folded Between Disbelief and Damnation is Your Disused Hope'
In Which Magic/The Force Meddles (Because She's a Meddler), the Master of Death Tries to Save People Again (Because He Suffers from Chronic Heroism), and a Baffled Tom Riddle and a Confused Anakin Skywalker Have Opportunities Shoved Into Their Faces Whether They Like It Or Not. (Considering the Lady Magic/Force, They Better Like It Or Else).
= Second Time Around =
"So, how have you been, Tom?" Harry casually strolled up to Tom's bench.
He shrugged, not particularly certain of the answer. Was he fine? He didn't know what other people consider fine. He was bored out of his wits, yes, and he was quite dissatisfied with some of his Death Eaters as he reviewed some of the events in his life—he was pretty sure that he wouldn't bother with Wormtail at all if he ever saw him again. But he wasn't sure that Harry wanted to know that. All things considered, it wasn't as if he had to put up with any sort of unmitigated torture here.
"Alright, I guess."
"Good!" Harry said, smiling and entirely too chipper for Tom's tastes. He took something from the recesses of his coat and pressed it into Tom's hands. "Here's your ticket for the next try. Have a nice trip!"
A good cuppa would've been better, Potter, he thought, but didn't voice it.
He didn't check the ticket immediately, preferring to eye the Master of Death with a long-suffering expression.
"Please don't tell me it's for Blackpool."
"It's not Blackpool." Harry sighed.
Tom looked down. The paper was thicker and smoother than he'd expected. "So, what trip? Where am I supposed to find this… Second Time Around Express slash Flight slash Interdimensional Portal period?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Very droll, Tom. You don't have to go anywhere, of course. Just wait here. Your ride will find your ticket when it's time to pick you up. It's obvious."
"Oh, of course it makes sense for a train to locate its passengers one-by-one across an entire station instead of expecting the passengers to gather in one platform. How unperceptive of me." Tom said dryly.
"Hey, the passengers don't always come from the same place or time, or end up in the similar worlds. It's easier than chancing people getting lost on their way. 'Sides, it's not as if you'd be picked up anytime soon, yet. No need for the sarcasm." Harry said, completely unperturbed. "No need to thank me either."
"Thank you very much for your help," Tom said, along with a perfect bow. It surprised him that he was not entirely disingenuous in his appreciation. Harry smiled, as if he was quite aware of what Tom was feeling, and it was enough for him.
"My pleasure," Harry said, replying in kind.
It was Tom's turn to be surprised by the warmth in it. As Harry continued speaking, Tom could see the tips of his wand glowing bright blue, "Safe journeys. Also, do get along with your travelling partner. His life's as complicated as yours and Magic herself decided that you would both do better if you could watch each other's back. It made perfect balance as well—you're given one life for you to fix, and you pay it by another that you are bound to watch over."
Tom shook his head, reeling from the sudden news dump (oh, he remembered all of it, he was that good, but he'd still need enough time to process it). Of all the glimpses he had into Harry Potter's life, he knew he should've expected this. The boy-who-lived was a bit of a slob when it came to his personal quarters—the only reason he kept the more common spaces neat was because he was too nice to inconvenience other people otherwise. Thus it wasn't really a surprise to find Harry rushing everything at once to him, right before an apparent departure instead of planning it ahead of time. He had so many questions he didn't even know where to start.
"Magic herself? Not itself?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, herself, whatever name she holds in whichever world. Don't ever catch you calling her it, though, not when you know better. She gets… tetchy."
"What was it about a travelling partner?"
"Ah, yes. That," Harry muttered. "Well, you know. People you travel with."
Tom pinched the bridge of his nose. "I would have thought that years, no, decades of being in the company of good Miss Granger would've expanded your vocabulary a little more and improved your explaining skills, Potter. Please try again."
Let it never be said that Tom Riddle didn't keep tabs on the people that could possibly pose a threat to him. He was quite aware of who Hermione Granger was, thank you, especially since she seemed to be McGonagall's protégé. Harry looked sheepish, but continued to grin regardless. Tom watched him carefully now. Was it just him, or did it look like the Master of Death was hiding something?
"It's just that you have an unusual arrangement. It doesn't happen often. I'm at loss to explain it."
"You could start at the beginning," Tom said, "Proceed to the middle, and stop when you've reached the end."
"You've read Alice in Wonderland! I almost can't believe that." Harry exclaimed with glee.
"Potter, focus." Tom said, with the sort of polite insistence to his statement that most diplomats and statesmen understand to generally meant as backed by an army. He would like to think that he's a patient man, but he had never been particularly tolerant of idiocy. Harry's liberal use of silliness would probably drive him up a wall over longer acquiantance. The man's almost like paint fumes that way, Tom thought at random do not expose yourself for prolonged periods in closed spaces, or no one is to be blame for your headaches but yourself.
"Well, you probably won't be leaving so soon because you'd need to get to know your partner—"
"What I was wondering about," he cut in with the same dulcet tones he had been using, "was what it would mean to have a travelling partner."
He glanced at his ticket again. "Let me see if I am correct. I have a second chance at my life with this ticket you've just given me. Is that true?"
Harry seemed to have considered something for a while before nodding. "Yes, it's true."
"Good. Now, for this partner, is he coming along to my life?"
Harry closed his mouth. It was only after a silent, staring contest between the two of them that Harry relented, slightly peeved. "You know, you're supposed to figure that one on your own, little by little."
"Is that a yes?"
"Yes." Harry said grouchily. Tom blinked. Well. That was easier than he'd thought. He ran his thoughts back to what Harry had said to him. Magic herself decided that you would both do better if you could watch each other's back. And then: you're given one life for you to fix, and you pay it by another that you are bound to watch over.
Tom turned the thoughts with care in his mind, observing them at different angles. He was beginning to get an inkling about what happened. Not completely, perhaps, but a greater picture was emerging from the mists. He was almost enjoying the mental workout he was getting.
"Please correct me if I'm wrong Harry. In actuality, you're not just giving me a life that is a second chance—you're giving me two lives."
Harry sighed. "You're no fun, you know? I can't lie to you—and I don't want to, so I'll be honest. Yes, you'll have two lives."
"One for myself, and one for my travelling fellow," he stated.
"One life is yours to fix, the other is his," Harry replied, giving up all pretense at mystery altogether as he threw his hands in the air and muttered something about control freak ex-dark lords. He paid it no mind.
"And we're suppose to watch each other's back," he said, wondering out loud. "So I gather that in my second chance, he'd be present too, and in his second chance, I would also have to live through it."
"Brilliant." Harry said, though the dispirited tone that he said it gave the impression that he thought it was anything but. "With a mind like that, why did you become a provincial British dark lord, again?"
The closest conjecture right now is temporary insanity due to increasingly fragmented souls, Tom thought, but damn if he wanted to say anything out loud. It was a bit embarassing when Harry could see the fault in his grand reasoning where he couldn't. It didn't matter that he knew Harry was quite sharp and perceptive, even if somewhat laidback academically. He supposed it was his damned ego and pride—the same thing that had gotten him in trouble before.
"How would the two lives go, then? In turns? I go into my life and he tags along, and then he goes into his life and I tag along?"
The wide grin on Harry's face that soon grew into alarming proportions. Alarming by Tom's standards, anyway.
"Now that is something truly revolutionary. You see, there's this ingenious method I came up with—"
"Is there an alternative method I can review and choose?" Tom asked. Harry put on a wounded expression that would put the Weasley twins to shame.
"Really, Tom, one would think you have no faith in me—"
"I don't," he said drolly.
"—but rest assured that I did my best by you," Harry finished, undeterred. "Now, let me introduce you to a fellow recovering dark lord."
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose again. Must. Not. Punch. Potter.
"Your faith in the goodness of men's hearts is astounding," Tom said, cynical.
"It's not just faith if you have the knowledge to back it up," Harry said. "Especially since I wasn't doing this alone. You'd meet Magic soon. Aaaaanyways, don't get on each other's nerves too much, right? You do know that being a prick is your choice instead of your default mode?"
"Why, whatever could you possibly mean?" The Slytherin's tone was too innocent to even be possible.
"You don't always have to sidestep questions about yourself, you know? Or take advantage of people's worries and play on that?" Harry said. "You could be a bit more open about yourself. Try it. You'd be surprised at what people can accept."
Tom took a long, steady breath. He should've known that being a Hero would've gotten into his head—Potter never grew out of his habit of wishing for miracles.
"What do you want from me, Potter?" He asked, his voice dry.
"Do you want me to scare the sheeps witless? Let them know that a wolf is living next door? The mobs with the pitchforks would occur very quickly then. I thought I was going through a second life here, not a very short one along with a brutal second death. Unless that was your idea of justice."
Harry noted his issues and listened to it, but he wasn't one to give up easily.
"Not everyone might be prepared for the truth, yes, but why not some people? Don't you think there's a reason I'm introducing you to another ex-dark lord?" Harry asked.
Tom didn't deign to answer.
Dark Lordship, after all, is a solitary occupation by their vigilant and hyper-aware (read: paranoid and overly-controlling) nature. He was quite sure that the presence of two dark lords within a city's perimeters should be read as 'Weapons of Mass Destruction Engaged' and thus consequently ending with the city wiped off the map. He couldn't push the feeling of premonition hanging over him away.
Really, whose bright idea is this?
For a moment, he couldn't stop himself from considering what Voldemort usually do to people who came up with so-called bright ideas like this one.
"What if I end up massacring people again?" Tom asked, hands inside his pockets and his posture slouching in a way that Harry was certain the Head Boy, model student of Hogwarts never did. It was a study of carelessness, but because of it Harry was made too aware of it. "Because some idiots are going to stay idiots. It would certainly be a lot less hassle if we just wipe them from the equation altogether, leaving your generation with the more reasonable and promising people afterwards to work with."
Harry was sure that Riddle was baiting him, but his tone was completely truthful. He shrugged.
"Well, people would just get massacred, I suppose. There'd be a hero or another that will fight you, maybe another prophecy and voila, dead again. Though if you've been a Dark Lord twice, I certainly can't promise another chance after that."
Tom nodded, contemplating.
"You'd also have twice as many memories of 'Things I Screwed Up While Living'. Have fun living through all of that again. Oh, did I mention that we have a more immersive system than the moving pictures of past life's memories that you will get to try out in that case?" Harry said, just as cheerful.
"It'd be like a pensieve, but worse."
He received an unamused stare for that, but it slid off him as water on a duck's back. He was pretty sure that Tom understood it well enough.
There is scarcely any other poison as bitter as one's own regret.