In the last chapter: Tom and Harry discover a greenhouse in the manor. Harry and Tom bond over share their magic with each other. Harry had an encounter with two Dementors and realizes someone is trying to get him in trouble. Sirius and Remus believe that Harry is secretly dating someone. He isn't, but he realizes that maybe he wants to.
The remaining days of summer slipped away like sand through his fingers. The more he tried to grasp them, the quicker they spilled over. Each day, Harry met with Tom, neither of them bringing attention to his upcoming departure. Once Harry had realized his budding affection for Tom, he was much surer of himself around the other. His thoughts and actions made more sense and he wasn't stumbling around blindly anymore.
As much as he would have liked to only focus on his time with Tom with what little remained of his summer, his last few days became quite busy. After such a relaxing and relatively easy-going last month of holiday, Harry wasn't surprised when the last few days burst into pandemonium.
It started with a letter.
Ginny had been relatively quiet during the summer, sending only one letter at the beginning of holiday and then dropping off for the remainder. Harry was curious to see why she had sent him a letter when they would be seeing each other in only days. However, when Harry felt the hefty weight of the envelope, he realized the girl probably needed to ruminate on something. He hadn't been wrong in that assumption, either.
After knowing Ginny for so long, Harry was not surprised to find that her main source of ire was, one Percy Weasley. He had known that there were tensions between Percy and the rest of his family, but it seemed to have reached a breaking point. In her letter, Ginny detailed a loud and heated argument between Percy and Arthur after the younger man's visit home.
Percy had been promoted to Fudge's Junior Assistant and Arthur was convinced that Fudge was using his son, just another cobble under Fudge's expensive Romanian dragon-hide soles. Arthur believed that Percy was intelligent and talented and could easily climb the ladder of the Ministry on his own, but he was also greedy and impatient and with little to no sense of dignity when it came to his superiors, clinging to Fudge like a parasite and happily bending to the man's will. Percy argued that he wouldn't have to grovel if he wasn't born to such a poor and unrespectable family. Things escalated from there.
Ginny told Harry about how her mother had nearly fainted as Percy shouted himself red in the face at them, raving about how they were lead weights around his ankles and he must be cursed to have been stuck with such a wretched lot. In the end, Percy disowned his family and left, hissing at them that he hoped to never see any of them again. It had been an ugly and vicious fight.
It wasn't hard to see where the tensions had come from, though. Fudge was taking aim at Dumbledore before the school year even began. Fudge was not being coy in his hatred and distrust towards Dumbledore, and as a result, those that supported Dumbledore were also feeling the flames. And it just so happened that one of Dumbledore's most loyal supporters was the Weasley family.
Percy no doubt knew that the Weasleys would soon become rather loathed and an undesirable bunch to be associated with, so Harry concluded that the recent fight had not been purely an in-the-moment event. It had been a strategic play, though a rather useless one with little reward and devastating consequence. Disowning his family would only bring an inkling of favor from Fudge, but his bonds and trust of his family was likely permanently broken and damaged. Fudge's ignorance, impulsiveness, and bigotry were already chipping away at the public's approval by the day; he would not last, and Harry doubted Percy will be kept on with the next Minister.
The further he read, the more it seemed that Ginny seemed to share some of his thoughts. Ginny expressed no small amount of worry for her family, knowing they would support Dumbledore to their dying day (save for the twins and Percy).
Dumbledore was not the only one feeling the brunt of Fudge's anger either.
Ever since Harry'd had a surprise visit from the two Dementors, it seemed that the Daily Prophet had been repurposed as an outlet for Fudge's thinly veiled slander against Harry. Each daily issue plastered with the few photos taken of Harry in the last year, along with at least three separate articles dedicated to gossip and calumny against Harry.
It was all hearsay about how Harry was really a delinquent and that he was using his money and influence to cover it up. There was even one with a false testimony by some girl he'd never met saying Harry had harassed her and tried to pay her for sexual favors. There may have been something about an illegitimate child born out of wedlock? But mostly, it was blather about dark dealings and corruption, secret involvement with politics.
The articles weren't picking up much traction with the public as there almost always seemed to be such nonsense printed and then disproved soon after that even some of the most gullible witches and wizards had given up on believing what they read. Now, however, it was more than a nuisance with how frequent these articles were being published. It was a direct attack on Harry's character and credibility.
Hogwart's Headmaster always seemed to own a spot on the front pages as well. And Harry was positive that one of the main reasons he was being targeted was because Dumbledore had not-so-subtly hinted at Harry being a supporter of his—or at least implied that Harry was a supporter of the light. Dumbledore was the light's figurehead, so it was practically the same thing in the old wizard's muddled head. Harry had just let it be since publicly denying the claim would bring unwanted attention to him and cause people to ask what he did support if not the light.
It had been a headache and a half.
Fortunately, Ginny's letter seemed to end on a high note. The twins' business venture seemed to be a booming success so far. They were keeping it a secret from their parents and most of their family of course. Molly wanted her bright sons to settled down and get respectable, well-paying jobs either in the Ministry or something else that was worlds safer than Bill's job with curse breaking and Charlie's dragon handling.
Not only would their parents not approve, but Ginny expressed the boys' reluctance to confide in them because their business needed money to take off—not only did they not want to burden their parents, they also felt guilty for the fact that they had money saved up but were putting it into their unsure future with the joke shop instead of helping out the family.
Apparently, the twins were biding their time with Hogwarts. Using their last year of schooling to secretly build up their business so that it had legs once they left. Their chosen career paths didn't necessarily need NEWTs, but it would keep their parents' suspicion off them until they could stand on their own.
Harry had little doubt that the duo would be successful. Pranks weren't exactly Harry's forte, but the pair were brilliant and he knew that some of their products could serve great use to the every-day witch and wizard outside of just practical jokes.
Ginny had mused in the end of her letter about how, now that the twins had begun to seriously develop a few products, they had been trying to stealthily test them. Most of it was tested on each other, but the rest were usually tested on their younger brother. Ronald. Harry remembered the few times he'd interacted with the Gryffindor of his year. The young man was quite . . . something. A thrill seeker, a troublemaker, fixated on a life of adventure instead of fulfillment. Harry had long since ceased keeping up with Ronald Weasley's escapades during the school year. He'd brought a lot of trouble to the house of red and gold and didn't seem to have any qualms with dragging others into his messes.
Well . . . it wasn't as if Harry's life was trouble free. . .
After the past few day's events, it just seemed too much of a coincidence for the Dementors to not have been sent from someone high up in the Ministry. With the current running defamation of his name, Harry had been fully expecting Fudge to have been the one behind the attempted attack. If Harry had fought off the Dementors, he would likely have been charged with the use of underage magic, and probably even charged with using magic in front of a muggle since the Dementors had been patrolling the muggle streets outside of his residence.
Harry wasn't worried about not being able to defend himself to the Wizengamot or having any sort of criminal record—much less having his wand snapped—but the charges would be just what Fudge needed to thoroughly raze him before the public eye. The only reason Harry had been able to so easily combat the constant onslaught against his character was the fact that he kept his name so clean.
Harry also had friends in very high places, but that could only get him so far.
However, Harry had found out only a day and half after the encounter with the Dementors, that someone else had been behind the 'attack.'
Delores Jane Umbridge.
A half-blood witch. Employed as the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. Harry had heard of her here and there within the Ministry—a slippery bureaucrat within the Ministry whose blood status did not dampen her reverent support for anti-muggle and anti-muggleborn legislation. Harry even recalled that the woman had attended Sirius' trial before his second year.
According to what his companion had discovered, the woman had acted outside of the Minister's knowledge. It's not that Harry didn't know that Fudge would be willing to do it on his own if he knew how it could benefit him, it just seemed that the Minister was not as clever as he'd thought. Delores Umbridge had clearly done it in favor of the Minister—he'd never personally interacted with the woman and highly doubted he'd done something damning enough to incur her to attack him with such little regard to his life.
Umbridge was too unfamiliar to him, and he would have to keep tabs on her to see if she made another attempt at him. Though, now that he could at least see the pieces on the board, he wasn't nearly as anxious.
He had later told Sirius and Remus of his encounter with the Dementors—Sirius had nearly had a heart attack until Harry explained that his magic, nature, and relationship with Death meant that he could communicate with them and his interactions with them had never been anything but completely amicable.
Remus, after the initial shock, was fascinated to hear that Dementors could actually talk—just not in a language anyone but Harry understood—and he'd gone into his scholar-mindset, asking Harry question after question about them. Which led to a slightly more in-depth discussion about Harry's affinity for Necromancy in general—but it had still been quite vague and ended quickly when he saw that his parents didn't really grasp what he spoke of and it made them quite uncomfortable.
Their concern soon shifted, though, when he told them about who had been behind the attack. Add onto that what was being printed in the papers, and his parents were thoroughly livid. There had even been mention of Harry not returning to Hogwarts if Fudge was going to be taking the reins that year. Harry gently reminded them that he was perfectly capable and could not be permanently harmed (a small consolation to the pair).
Sirius had already been in contact with Lucius, working with the man to see what could be done about the Daily Prophet. It would take time, though. The Daily Prophet was the biggest publication in wizarding England, they had many ties and backing within the Ministry, and they had the best magical lawyers on retainer. The Prophet was a beast many had tried to conquer and failed.
It was through Sirius and Remus that Harry finally got some insight into what had kept Dumbledore so busy over the summer, enough so to neglect his duties as Headmaster of Hogwarts. And to say he was unimpressed with what he discovered would be one hell of an understatement.
According to his parents, Dumbledore still believed that Voldemort was out there, somewhere. That the Dark Lord was slowly biding his time, gathering both his strength and his followers, and would soon wage war on the light. Dumbledore had been traveling all over England and the continent, trying to reconnect with old allies and supporters during the first war. Dumbledore was once again trying to reassemble the Order of the Pheonix in earnest—but with very little success, apparently.
Dumbledore had once again approached Remus and Sirius about getting them to join, but they quickly declined. They had made it clear the first time he'd gone to them, asking them to join the Order and requesting Harry be left in the care of the Weasleys, or even himself, while Bellatrix was still at large.
Harry had told his parents that, in no uncertain terms, that Voldemort would not be starting up another war and Dumbledore was throwing himself into a wasted cause. They had been apprehensive at the fact that Harry had not said anything about Voldemort actually being dead, just that he wouldn't be starting a war.
Sirius had hesitantly asked, but Harry had only reiterated that the Dark no longer had a Lord and Voldemort would no longer be a danger to society. It was vague and didn't really sooth their concerns, but Harry wasn't ready to reveal the whole truth yet—especially in light of his recently discovered feelings. It was his way of softly opening up the doors for a conversation he would be having with them at a later date. It hinted that Voldemort was alive, and Harry knew enough about him and his activities to be certain of what he would and wouldn't do, but that was the extent.
After Sirius and Remus shared with Harry what they knew about Dumbledore's movements, all that was left was for him to pass on the information to Tom.
It was the last day before Harry would depart for Hogwarts, and also his last visit to Tom until his next opportunity to leave the school. Harry hadn't even been able to spend the day with the other as he'd liked to have, since his parents had given in to their natural coddling tendencies and had forced Harry to stay with them most of the day so they could spend quality time with their son before he left for yet another school year.
Harry hadn't been able to slip away until after the sun had already set. Despite the late hour, Tom had looked relieved when Harry had finally shown up and easily welcomed the Ravenclaw in to eat dinner with him. The moment they had set eyes on each other, they seemed to gravitate towards the other, walking a little closer than usual, a slightly firmer hand on the arm or back as if to memorize the architecture of the other man's body and the swell of their breathing.
There was an ever-present ache in Harry's diaphragm during the visit, like his body had picked up on his thoughts—knew that Harry would soon be leaving and was pleading with him to reconsider. Even if he hadn't discovered the true nature of his urges towards Tom, he was Harry's friend and he'd grown so used to his constant presence that- . . . he just didn't want to leave. . .
They ate their dinner while discussing various things, but none of it reflected what they were thinking or feeling. Eventually, they finished eating and began to walk through the manor at a sedate pace. Without the distraction of the meal, Harry began to fill Tom in on what he'd learned about Dumbledore and the Order. He also briefly went into the mess with Fudge and Umbridge—during that discussion, a formative furrow had appeared between Tom's brows as he lost himself in thought and Harry could practically feel the apprehension, concern, and low boiling anger stewing inside of Tom.
Harry let him sink into his own thoughts for a while. When they entered a large room with a high ceiling, they both slowed. The room bore enormous windows to the right that bathed the darkened area in dim, cool light from the night beyond. Shadows of the iron framing holding the panels of glass cast long shadows on the floor, the soft moonlight illuminating patterns and warm colors on the floor. The room had likely been used for grand parties filled with dancing, laughter and too much alcohol for 'proper society.'
Harry stopped in the middle of the room to gaze out the window at the land beyond. Tom followed suit.
"I have something for you." Harry's soft words parted the silence and Tom turned to look at him in surprise. Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a shrunken bag. "It's not much, considering it never really belonged to me in the first place, but think of it as a parting gift, of sorts." Harry mused as he unshrunk the bag and handed it over to the stunned male.
Harry watched with fondness in his pale green eyes as Tom curiously pulled open the bag and peered inside. Suddenly, Tom's midnight blue eyes widened a fraction and flicked up to him.
"Harry this-" Harry's lips flourished into a beaming smile. Tom reached in and pulled out a familiar black leather diary. "My Horcruxes. . ." Amazement threaded itself between his words on the heavy exhale.
"Technically, not anymore. All of the soul fragments were transferred to the locket for the ritual. These are just as they were before they became Horcruxes." Harry paused and thought for a moment, letting Tom riffle back through the bag to look at the other objects before speaking again, tone hesitant.
"I wasn't sure if you'd want them back, because of they might only serve as reminders, but I also knew it wasn't up to me to decide whether you kept them or not. After all, each of these held some form of significance to you if you chose them to be your vessels all those years ago. They weren't mine to keep." Harry finished with the slight lift of his shoulder in a shrug.
When Harry looked away from the bag, he found Tom was watching him with a strange expression. Was it mirth? Endearment? Something in between.
"What is it?"
Tom shook his head with an airy chuckle under his breath as he slipped a hand into his robe. His hand came back out with a small, nondescript box the size of Harry's palm. Harry blinked. What's this?
"It seems we had something similar in mind this evening. I got something for you as well." Harry took the box from Tom's outstretched hand automatically, mind not really catching up with what was going on until he was already pulling the black lid up and revealing its contents.
Out of everything Harry might have imagined Tom might think to give him as a parting gift, he certainly hadn't predicted the man would be handing over an all too familiar Slytherin heirloom. His breath stuttered out of him and he reached in to scoop the locket up from within the dark confines. His confusion only mounted when he felt a telling rush of heat up through his arm to saturate the rest of his body in toe-curling warmth. Harry turned his questioning gaze back up to Tom, prompting an explanation.
"I might have added a little something for protection." Tom admitted casually, as if it had been an afterthought. The strength of the magic Harry felt, though, told a completely different story. A small, genuine smile formed on Harry's lips and it mirrored the bloom of warmth in his stomach and behind his ribs that had nothing to do with the magic swirling around him from the locket.
"May I?" Tom asked quietly as he took a step closer to Harry, filling his space and capturing all of his focus so easily. Harry nodded, but didn't break eye contact with Tom's enrapturing deep blue gaze as his felt Tom's fingers brush lightly over his hand, taking the locket from his hand. They both watched each other as the taller male reached around Harry's slender neck to clasp the thin chain of the locket securely around his throat.
Harry was flooded with warmth and was almost distracted enough to not notice when Tom was retracting his hands and he felt the graze of fingertips against the juncture of his shoulder up across the sensitive flesh of his neck, as if to feel just how soft the untouched alabaster skin was against his own. Harry felt his bones grow hollow and light and his muscles involuntarily loosen at the intimate touch. Warm breath fanned lightly across his face and Harry wanted to capture every moment for himself, to never forget a single second.
"This will be an awfully dreary place without you, Harry." The dulcet tones were weighted with honest emotion and it gripped Harry at his core. Before Harry could muster up a reply, there was a large, gentle hand at the back of his head and another on his upper arm, pulling him forward until he was flush with the large body. Tom was tall, broad, strong, physically very fit, and characteristically intense and charismatic. But right then, Harry only felt Tom's slow, delicate embrace. His touch was so light—tender—that it took Harry's breath away. Tom didn't hold him like he was breakable, he held him like a homecoming . . . like a greeting and a farewell at the same time, like something new and inevitable, like a promise.
Harry lifted his arms and encircled the other's middle, thin fingers splaying over the firm clothed planes of Tom's back. His chin laid on Tom's shoulder at a slight angle, but he soon turned his head so it could rest on his shoulder in a comfortable position.
The large hand on his arm slid around his back to hold him closer, and long fingers slid into his soft black curls. The caress of fingertips against his sensitive scalp sent a shower of pleasant chills and little shivers through Harry as his eyes closed at the sensation and he curved his shoulders in slightly to push himself further into the embrace.
It was something Harry had never felt before. Not just the touches, but his own reactions towards them. Harry had always pulled away from contact with others, even those he deeply cared about. He tolerated most of it because he knew physical affection comforted others, he knew that it reassured his loved ones and strengthened their bonds. Though Harry had sometimes found certain touches or gestures to be soothing and the meaning behind them made him truly enjoy the experience—that didn't change the fact that the contact on its own had always felt off to him and made him uncomfortable.
But Harry- . . . Harry had never before craved it like this before. He had never sought out the attention, affection, and touch of another person before. However, as Tom held him flush against him, slow breaths threading through his hair from where Tom had unconsciously turned his lips towards the crown of his head, unabashedly holding him despite not even knowing his true feelings, Harry felt a heavy sort of reluctance at the thought of pulling away.
He was so sinfully comfortable and blissfully soaking up the feeling of Tom's sweet and gentle touch like a feline in the hot, bright beams of the midday sun. Harry honestly believed that, if it weren't for the fact that he was currently standing, he might soon drop off into a deep sleep.
Harry turned his face until it was facing the other way and his lips were just an inch away from Tom's throat.
"I'll miss you too, Tom." Harry whispered, knowing well that his words were heard by the other.
The school term had never looked so long to the young immortal.