Beta by vanillaghost
Harry couldn't stop staring at the baby. The little boy lay there in the crib, his brown eyes wide and looking at him with childish curiosity. Gripping his wand a little tighter, a strange feeling curled in the pit of Harry's stomach. Something he hadn't experienced in a long time.
And the question of 'what if'. What if he was making the same mistake Voldemort once did? The familiarity of the situation was hilarious in its irony. Oh, the irony.
The boy appeared on the verge of crying, alarmed by the presence of the stranger leaning over him. The 'Avada Kedavra' danced on Harry's lips, but the constant nagging in his mind made him hesitate. He didn't have a horcrux. He didn't need one. Yet the mere possibility of his own spell rebounding was beyond terrifying. It had with Voldemort all those years ago, so why wouldn't it happen again?
No, he couldn't, he wouldn't use magic. He scanned the small chamber, passing over countless toys, a small table, and a wardrobe. There wasn't much to look at. Harry considered returning downstairs in search of something more suitable when his eyes locked onto the wooden bars of the crib.
That would do.
His wand safely tucked into the sleeve of his coat, Harry conjured a small portion of magic on his fingertips before he gripped one of the bars and pulled. Another flick of his power and the flat end of the wooden piece was now as sharp as a dagger. The small weapon felt strange and foreign in his palm, yet he forced the unsettling sensation into the back of his mind.
Harry bent over the crib, lowering the wooden piece until it touched the chest of the wriggling child, right where its heart beat. His hand shook yet no matter how sorry he felt for this innocent life, he couldn't let the boy live. Not if Harry wanted to remain the Master of Death. Not if he wanted to remain alive. He wondered if Voldemort had felt like this too. The thought of his former enemy strengthened his resolve. Now was not the time to be sentimental.
The child whimpered softly and without looking at the boy's face, Harry stabbed him in one precise movement of his arm. And then another. And another. Until he just couldn't stop.
The sight of the mutilated body should have made him sick. Or the blood covering his hands. Instead Harry felt tired, drained, and a little disgusted with himself. But he was still there. Still in his own body, not a floating spirit as Voldemort had become after trying to murder him. Without a second thought, Harry dropped the bloody wooden piece to the floor and Apparated away.
The house was as quiet as ever when Harry returned, heart hammering in his chest. He had finally succeeded. After five months of losing sleep over the Prophecy and endless searching for the boy. After countless nights of pacing around his rented flat, debating with himself over the possible outcome of events.
Harry walked toward his bedroom where he crumpled face first onto the bed without taking his shoes off. Sometimes he missed the frame of his glasses digging into his face. The random thought passed as quickly as it came. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. It was done, but he was still discontent. There was something missing and Harry hated it. This sensation of emptiness that persisted for years ever since the Battle of Hogwarts.
He had once been briefly exalted. To finally be free of the responsibilities previously trusted upon him; from Voldemort, from everything. He'd been eager to begin his life anew with Ron and Hermione. But the sweet illusion quickly shattered. As years passed, it didn't take him long to notice the arrested development of his body. Especially when his friends matured and their age began to visibly show. All the while Harry still didn't look a day older than seventeen. Not since Voldemort died.
Harry shortly departed Britain after bidding farewell to Ron and Hermione. All under the weak excuse of needing some time to himself. After two months of research, he finally found his answers in a small Albanian wizarding village where there lived a group of dark wizards obsessed with the Deathly Hallows.
At first Harry had been reluctant to meet with people so emerged in the Dark Arts, but the burning need to know made him seek their company without a second thought. He met them under a glamour. They were a group of hostile elderly people who didn't enjoy the company of strangers very much. After only a few days spent there, Harry was shocked he hadn't put the pieces together himself. All three hallows were in his possession. He was the Master of Death.
With this discovery in mind, he intended to spend only a few days in Germany to sort out his thoughts. But days turned into months and months turned into years. Even his correspondence with Ron and Hermione became something akin to a burden. He simply wasn't able to return to Britain and pretend everything was well and fine. He hadn't even attended their wedding under the excuse of poor health.
Instead Harry dwelled on the one thing he had run from all his life. He began to study the Dark Arts. He'd been so sure of himself back then, so convinced he was strong enough to fight the temptation. Time had proven him wrong. Knowledge, especially important and valuable knowledge, came with a high price. Yet Harry was willing to pay it. Immortality sounded tempting, but forever was a long time.
He never returned to England, the name of 'Harry Potter' still on the lips of a great number of people. They were desperate to see their hero, the boy who twice defeated The Dark Lord. Harry hated the attention. In Germany, all he had to do was cover his scar and he was another teenager blending into the crowd. That uneventful period of his life had been left behind with the arrival of that Seer. She somehow managed to track him down in order to let Harry know about the so-called prophecy she had received.
He hadn't believed her at first. Why would he? For all he knew, she could be a mad woman or another desperate fan who wanted to meet him by any means possible. That was before he had entered her mind. After years of practice with willing and unwilling subjects, Harry became quite good with Legilimency. It hadn't taken him long to find the memory.
Three clear sentences spoke of his death once a certain child reached maturity. Harry had Obliviated the woman, making her forget about the existence of the prophecy, and about her meeting with him. Then Harry came to the surprising conclusion that he didn't want to die. He had so much to learn and see. The possibility of actually doing so was now more appealing than ever. He finally understood Voldemort. When one had and knew so much, he was desperate to keep it for as long as possible. Harry literally had eternity. The prophecy may prove to be self-fulfilling, but it was a risk he was willing to take. He couldn't allow a mere child take what he had. After all, Harry deserved every bit of it after all he'd been through.
At least that's what he told himself while planning the murder of the two-year-old boy.
The dead boy wouldn't get out of his head.
Harry gave up on tying to sleep and opened his eyes. He scanned the room until he found the one thing he was unconsciously looking for; the Resurrection Stone. He had come back for it in the Forbidden Forest a few days after The Battle of Hogwarts. He told himself he was just keeping it safe. Now it seemed like a joke.
Harry stood up and made his way toward the desk where he took the stone in hand. He hadn't used it since that night when Voldemort killed the horcrux inside of him. Simply hadn't had the time. He wanted to use it now. Harry itched with the need. The question was who to call back? He didn't really want to see his parents. Remus or Sirius wouldn't be much better either. None of them would like what he's become.
Harry didn't know why he chose him of all people. Maybe he was truly crazy now. As he turned the stone for the third time in his hand, he felt the shift in the atmosphere, the subtle drop in temperature. He was here.
Harry turned, and there he was. But he was not how Harry expected to see him.
The man before him was not the snake-like Voldemort he was used to. No, he was almost the handsome Tom Riddle he'd seen in Dumbledore's memories in his sixth year at Hogwarts. Only older. Twenty or so years older, maybe thirty. Harry could only guess.
The other man was not dressed in the robe he had died in, but in a plain white shirt and black pants. In fact, there was something strangely muggle about his wardrobe.
The dead man glared at him, his eyes not leaving Harry's face even once.
"Voldemort," Harry acknowledged.
The man still stared at him as if Harry was the ghost, not the other way around. His now gray eyes were locked on Harry's forehead, most likely trying to catch sight of the scar under his bangs. Maybe he was trying to confirm that Harry was, well, Harry.
"How?" The man seemed to want to close the distance between them just to get a closer look at Harry.
"How am I still alive? Well, the spell rebounded and you were the one who-"
Voldemort's harsh voice interrupted him mid-sentence.
"Don't lecture me on such obvious things, boy. I'm asking why you still look like this after all these years!"
Harry tried to ignore the sudden urge to curse Voldemort for speaking to him in that tone. But it wasn't like he could actually do so. The next best thing on the list was to send him back where he came from. But that would be quite immature on his part.
"I'm hardly a boy anymore, so I'd appreciate it if you could stop addressing me as such," Harry complained. "Or like another one of your followers. Let's not forget who brought you here in the first place."
If Voldemort was surprised by Harry's behavior, he hid it well. He still looked displeased but at least appeared to be more civil. It was rather suspicious.
"It's going to take a long time to explain," Harry announced as he made his way toward the king sized bed and sat down.
"Am I going anywhere?"
Voldemort just stood there. If someone had previously told Harry he was going to have a conversation with Voldemort's ghost in his bedroom of all places, he would have laughed. And so he told the other everything. It wasn't like The Dark Lord could do anything with the information. The older-looking man appeared rather intrigued when Harry got to the part of him dwelling in The Dark Arts, and by the time The Prophecy was mentioned his interest was clearly stirred.
"Another Prophecy, how curious…" His eyes found Harry's and whatever he saw gave him the answer he was looking for, but Voldemort wasn't surprised. "You killed the child."
What was the point in lying to him of all people?
"I did." He couldn't help but feel annoyed at the other's smug face. "How did you know?"
Voldemort moved a step closer to where he stood, looking down at Harry. Riddle was almost transparent, the desk and its contents being visible enough for Harry to see.
"I told you once, Harry. There are strange likenesses between the two of us. You made the same decision as I did once. Not so easy to place blame right now, is it?"
He didn't conceal the bitterness in his voice. Harry held his gaze and yes, there it was. The connection he had rejected for so long. He understood Voldemort, and Riddle understood him. Always had, always will. And none of them liked it. It was too intimate, this type of bond with another being.
"So, Harry Potter, what did you bring me here for?" Voldemort asked.
Harry was taken aback and at a loss for words. "I…because," he frantically searched his mind for the right thing to say. But there was nothing. Just the truth. "I... don't know."
The corners of Riddle's mouth lifted a little. The man nodded his head, his gray eyes not leaving Harry's face.
"Then again, Potter, I suppose it doesn't really matter."
Harry couldn't agree more.
He found himself summoning Voldemort more and more often. It had been subtle at first. Once a week when he truly didn't have anything else to do, yet it soon became a habit. Two months passed since the first time they talked, and for more than a week Riddle had spent the entire day at Harry's house. And Harry had enjoyed the company. He anticipated it. Couldn't even fathom when Voldemort had suddenly changed to Riddle in his mind.
The man was quiet most of the time, simply content to watch Harry and whatever he was doing at the moment. Mostly reading. Harry should have found the other's constant gaze creepy, but it actually made him feel comfortable. Of course, he would rather die than tell Riddle that.
Harry sighed as he realized he was reading the same paragraph for the fourth time in a row now, and closed the book, annoyed with himself. Riddle sat by the window and turned to look at him.
As if he was truly interested.
"For now." Harry made a pause before speaking again. "Why are you dressed like this?"
Riddle's eyebrows rose at the question. He seemed to be considering his answer, most likely debating whether to lie or not.
"These were the clothes I was dressed in when I made my first horcrux."
Definitely telling the truth, Harry decided. "Ok," he replied simply.
The black-haired man hummed before resuming his window gazing. It annoyed Harry.
"There must have been much more interesting things to see on the other side. Rather than this forest." He sounded like an attention seeking child.
"Not really," offered Riddle.
His tone was distant and he seemed deep in thought. They had never opened the subject of death or afterlife, but Harry didn't really need to know about that to make sense of Riddle's attitude. After all, he had always been afraid of death. Maybe that's why he preferred to stay here with Harry, doing nothing.
Harry bit his lower lip, gazing at Riddle's back, before he blinked. He couldn't see the window. Riddle and his reflection blocked the view.
"You're not transparent anymore," Harry accused.
But how was it possible? It reminded him of the diary Tom Riddle, but this version was not a horcrux. There was absolutely no way he could be one.
The man sighed and turned towards Harry. He looked tired, judging only from the set of his shoulders. Not to mention the dark circles underneath his eyes. Yet, despite this, Riddle was as devilishly handsome as ever.
"Have you ever heard of 'The Tale of the Three Brothers'?" he asked. "It's a silly fairy tale that was supposedly written to teach wizarding children about wisdom, humility, morals, and so on."
"Yes, about the Deathly Hallows." Harry still remembered the story Hermione read to him and Ron, remembered how obsessed he had been with the three objects.
Riddle left his place by the window and came to stop directly in front of Harry.
"Good, then let's jump to the part concerning our situation, shall we? The second brother used the resurrection stone to bring back his dead lover. But she turned sad and cold because she didn't belong in the human world anymore. Seem familiar?"
Harry suppressed the impulse to comment on Riddle's fantastic memory before answering.
"Well, of course, but you want to stay here, don't you? She didn't. And the story didn't mention her getting more solid."
Riddle shook his head.
"What I want doesn't matter, Potter. As for the question of why I'm no longer transparent, I presume it has something to do with the long period of time I've spent here with you. I find myself speculating that I've been in the human world for much longer than the woman in the story had."
It was a plausible explanation. Still, Harry didn't want Voldemort to go. The thought was unsettling.
"And how long will this existence be enough for you?" Harry couldn't help but ask.
Riddle's jaw clenched.
"It is enough for now."
Harry stood in a dark, barely lit, and unfamiliar hallway. He blinked, listening to the nothingness around him as he calmly felt his trousers right pocket for his wand. Empty space met his hand. An unpleasant feeling curled in the pit of his stomach at the realization. Even if he logically knew this was nothing but a dream, it did little to ease his mind. Voldemort had taught him what one can experience in a mere projection of his mind.
He gazed at the door situated on the other end of the hallway as a familiar sensation washed over him. Harry knew that door, and that meant he knew where he was. Or at least his subconscious did.
Green door, green door, he repeated the words in his mind and tried to form a connection to a memory or whatever else he could find. Harry blinked. There had been a hallway similar to this one when he had killed that boy. At that time, the color of the door leading to the child's chamber had been irrelevant to the purpose of his visit. Harry hadn't paid it any mind. Apparently, a part of him had.
That meant there was only one way to wake up. And it included going into that chamber, an experience Harry would gladly avoid. It had taken him some time to bury what was left of the whole experience in the back of his mind. He slowly exhaled and moved toward his apparent destination. Harry didn't waste any time in opening the door and the sight that met his eyes only served to prove him right. It was the room of the baby. However, what he did not expect were the cries coming from the crib.
The pounding of his heart increased as he slowly came to a stop and looked down at the child. He was alive, or at least he appeared to be. Just like before, there was not a trace of fear in his eyes as he regarded Harry. The only plausible method of waking up became quite clear.
It shouldn't matter now as the child was already dead.
But his hands still trembled when he adjusted the form of the wooden piece. His lips pressed into a tight line as he held the small weapon over the tiny body. This time he didn't look away as he pierced the boy's chest.
Harry woke up to pain. His body ached all over and for a moment he wasn't sure he could actually breathe, as if something was squeezing his neck. With a groan, he managed to pull himself into a sitting position, hand fumbling over the nightstand, searching for his wand. Something went knocking down before shattering.
Riddle stood there next to the bed, watching him.
Harry thought he may vomit but not a second later everything was fine. Just like that. For a moment Harry wondered if he was still dreaming, but he was sitting on the edge of the bed, panting. Riddle kept staring at him in that intense way of his.
The older man's facial expression was a calculated one. Like he was considering something.
"Joining me so soon?"
He didn't know if Riddle was being sarcastic or not, but he refused to take the bait. Harry rose from the bed and stepped over the pieces of broken glass on the floor, careful not to cut himself. He would clean up later.
"What's happening to me?" he asked.
Riddle raised an elegant eyebrow.
"And what makes you think I know?"
Despite your face? But Harry didn't say it out loud. "I just do," he replied.
The older man looked down at him and until now, Harry never realized how tall Riddle really was, though Harry himself wasn't that short. They stood so close to each other that he should have felt Riddle's breath on his face but of course, there was none.
"Good, Harry. Excellent."
The tone was half praising, half mocking. His solid-looking hand rose toward his face and Harry half expected to feel pressure when those long fingers touched his cheek. All he got was a sensation of cold. He shuddered.
"Surely you didn't think that being the master of the Hallows would grant you immortality?" Riddle let his hand drop. "Nothing but a silly story for silly children. There was no deal with Death in the first place, only three powerful wizards with a clever idea and too much power. How you come to the conclusion the Hallows were the reason you haven't aged a day is beyond me."
"It was the only logical explication," Harry defended himself. "If you have some better idea, please feel free to share it."
Something akin to disappointment danced in Riddle's eyes. As if Harry had something to prove to him of all people.
"And either must die at the hand of the other..." Riddle quoted. "The only possible way for us to truly die is at the hands of one another. Now both of us know that I merely killed the piece of my soul that resided into you that night you came to me in the Forbidden Forest."
It made a lot of sense. Harry's 'Master of Death' theory seemed foolish now. He moved a few steps back, putting some distance between him and Riddle. He couldn't think straight with the other man standing so close to him.
"Fine," Harry exhaled. "That still doesn't explain what happened to me before. That didn't feel like immortality at all."
"At the moment I can only give you theories."
"Fine, then give me your theories. It's still better than nothing,"
Harry hated how panicked he sounded and knew he shouldn't have asked for Riddle's help. Shouldn't trust his explanations. However, this didn't stop him from actually doing so.
"These episodes have gone on for quite some time," Riddle began and casually leaned against the table in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest.
It was the truth, although it was a rare occurrence. Usually two times a month or so. Harry considered telling Riddle about his dream but quickly banished the thought. The Dark Lord didn't need to know about his guilty conscience.
Harry could barely distinguish the older man in the darkness, so with just a snap of Harry's fingers, the room came into light. Something flickered in Riddle's gray eyes as he followed his movement. Longing. For something he wasn't able to do anymore. Harry couldn't bear to imagine how it must feel to be robbed of your own magic, of your own powers. Especially for someone like Riddle.
"That's a statement, not a question," Harry said as he pulled a chair not too far away from where the other sat.
They were face to face now and it didn't escape his notice that Riddle seemed pleased by his deduction. The man clearly wanted him to know that. Manipulative bastard.
"Yes, it was a statement. If I had to guess for how long, I'd say a few months after my demise. Maybe more."
Harry swallowed the lump in his throat as he nodded at Riddle's words. The man was unbelievably brilliant, in a way that Harry couldn't believe was possible.
"One month after. But it wasn't so bad at first."
"That much I figured," concluded Riddle. His fingers drummed against the table as he spoke, but there was no sound in the silent room.
"It's because you're dead," Harry suddenly realized as Riddle looked at him. "The prophecy… It says I can die by your hands only, and the other way around. I'm unable to physically die because you didn't personally kill me. But my soul…"
"Your soul knows that my soul is not in this world anymore," finished the other in his place. "Or what was left of it anyway."
Harry couldn't figure out what to say, as the only possible solution formed in his mind; If he wanted to live, he'd have to bring Voldemort back. But that was absolutely crazy, even thinking about such thing. Harry knew Riddle was aware of his current train of thought.
The older man only seemed to be waiting for him to come to terms with the situation. To convince himself there was no other way around this. Because there truly wasn't, and Harry didn't need any research to figure it out. But to give in to what Riddle wanted...
"How do I know you won't get rid of me if I theoretically bring you back?" Harry dared to ask. "There are ways of destroying a person without actually killing them. From all I know, you could simply lock me up somewhere and be done with it."
Riddle's gray eyes were full of intensity.
"Yes I could, but such actions may turn against me in time," He watched Harry like a scientist would observe his experiment. "You aren't exactly easy to tame, that much I've learned from what previously happened between us. And I'm not willing to make the same mistake twice."
"Good, because I'm not the same weak boy as before. We'd be equal in terms of power." A lie, but Riddle didn't need to know that.
"You're implying you are willing to do this," concluded Riddle, leaning forward a little. A sudden change in his tone betrayed his desire and impatience.
Harry couldn't bring himself to blame him.
"Yes, I suppose I am. After all, I have no other choice. My life is on the line and as you well know, self-preservation is a very strong motivation," Harry responded and rose up from his chair. "I don't know how to bring dead people back. A few years ago I read some books about necromancy but it only concerned Inferi or other types of moving corpses… Never anything close to what you – we – want."
A smirk danced on Riddle's lips and Harry couldn't help but stare at him, at how handsome he was. He felt like his sixteen-year-old self who was so mesmerized by Riddle's good looks that he couldn't keep his eyes off him. Unfortunately, it seemed like time hadn't changed a thing.
"Do not worry, Harry," The other drawled and closed the small distance between their bodies. "I know all there is to know. Your assistance is all I need."
It didn't escape Harry's notice the way his name fell from those lips.
"Good. Then I suppose we have work to do."
Harry was forced to look up in order to meet Riddle's gaze, and he was once again taken aback by the height of the older man. He blinked when he realized they were just standing there, staring into each other's eyes. Harry awkwardly moved back.
"Now, what do you know about bringing back the dead?" Harry asked.
Riddle's eyes gleamed. "You should take a seat," he advised. "This is going to take a while."
It was so cold Harry regretted not using a warming spell before they left. He was freezing.
Riddle, ever in his white shirt and black pants, stood a few steps ahead in front of the muggle tavern, not bothered at all by the cold temperature. Usually most dead people weren't. The small village in Scotland was covered in snow as it endlessly fell from the night sky. Harry normally didn't mind such weather but he would have preferred if it just stopped at that moment.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Harry asked. "It looks…"
"Like a hovel for muggle scum to drink themselves into oblivion? That's exactly what it is. And yes, Potter, of course I'm sure. "
Taking another look at the two-floor tavern, Harry sighed in annoyance.
"Fine. Let's say I find this man there. What makes you so sure he'll want to speak with me, a complete stranger? He might be a muggle but, who knows? He may be aware of who Harry Potter is…Or what, do you want me to change my appearance?"
"No, that won't be necessary. Besides, I wouldn't want you to hide your pretty face," Riddle taunted, and began to walk. "Come now, Potter, we do not have all night."
Harry rolled his eyes, barely suppressing a smile at the other's teasing words. It was a strange feeling for him. Realizing that not only did he find Riddle attractive, but also enjoyed his company and even his occasional harsh words. Harry never considered the possibility of being something other than enemies before, but here he was planning to pretty much abduct a man under Riddle's guidance. Oh well, he'd done worse things.
Harry followed Riddle until they reached the tavern where Harry took the lead. Sometimes he forgot that the other man wasn't actually there. None of them uttered a word as Harry entered the place, aware of the other's presence right behind him.
The smell of cheap alcohol and unwashed bodies hit him right away. Music played in the background, loud enough to muffle all conversation. Villagers were gathered in small groups around a few tables, drinking and laughing at their own jokes. A few curious eyes meet his own but they quickly returned to their own business. An old barman with a beard that briefly reminded Harry of Dumbledore was washing glasses behind the counter.
"He's here," Riddle said. "Right side of the room, next to the window."
Harry's attention snapped to where a middle-aged man sat over a pint of beer by himself. Their man went by the name of Richard Taft. Only he looked much older than he'd been in Riddle's memories. Harry received an annoyed glance for interrupting his drinking with a loud clearing of his throat, right beside the table.
Using Imperius on the man was a possibility but Harry would rather talk to him first. He'll see how things go.
"Mister Taft?" he asked, feigning ignorance.
He got a frown in return.
"Aye, lad," the man admitted, taking a large gulp of his drink. "And before ye ask, I'm no' buying anythin'."
"Imbecile," Riddle mumbled next to him.
Harry struggled to maintain a straight face. "I'm not selling anything, sir," he stated, careful in remembering that he appeared to only be a teenager to the other man. "May I take a seat?"
Taft sighed, gesturing to the empty chair across from him. He waited until Harry was seated before speaking.
"What's the meanin' of all this, eh? Never seen yer face 'round here, so how's a young lad such as yerself' know my name?"
He seemed suspicious of Harry. Suspicious, but not afraid. At least not yet.
"I'm here on behalf of a… family member," he began. Riddle chuckled. "You had some business with him a few years ago. You may know him as Tom Riddle."
Harry had been surprised when he found out that Riddle had used his real name in dealing with the man. But it made sense. As Riddle had explained three days ago, no one expected him to use his real name. Not even Harry. And least of all Dumbledore.
All color drained from the man's face and his expression changed into one of fear. Harry had his wand ready and hidden in his sleeve in case Richard tried anything. His eyes meet Riddle's when he moved to stand behind the muggle and observe Harry.
"I…," Taft whispered. "I know of him. But who are ye? And what's ye'r relationship to 'im?"
Using his real name was out of the question.
"My name is Harry Riddle. Tom Riddle is my father."
He watched Riddle's face when he said it and expected anger. But his once enemy seemed more surprised than anything else. Harry himself didn't know why he chose that name or that particular relationship, but he needed to convince Taft of his good intentions. Besides, the look on Riddle's face had been worth it.
It seemed to work, as the man's gaze carefully moved over him, obviously comparing Harry's features to Riddle's own. Harry was well aware they looked somehow alike, and he was going to play that card.
"Remind him of the package," urged Riddle.
"He's unable to come here himself so, as his son, I'm supposed to retrieve a package," Harry lied.
Riddle let out a small laugh, circling the table to stand right next to Harry. "You being my son… That would have been an amusing twist, don't you think?" he wondered aloud. "Imagine the surprise on the old man's face."
Damn Riddle and his twisted sense of humor.
"Can we go now, Mister Taft?" Harry asked, and tried to hide his impatience as well as his amusement. "I'm in quite a hurry."
The man looked conflicted and both Harry and Riddle saw the not-so-subtle movement of his eyes as they darted to the tavern's exit.
"Imperio him already," Riddle commanded in a bored tone.
It was done before he finished speaking.
Harry had been astonished when Riddle confessed that a sample of his own blood was in the hands of a muggle. Yet in a way, it seemed a logical thing to do. Voldemort wouldn't have risked leaving something like this in the care of a wizard, follower or not. However, a muggle under an Imperius curse… In all honestly, it was brilliant. Not that Harry would ever admit it out loud.
He and Voldemort waited in Richard Taft's small living room as the man went to fetch their package. Apparently, the muggle wasn't aware of its contents, only that it was extremely valuable and under no circumstances should it be opened. Be it other persons or even he himself. The spell Riddle cast on him was designed that way.
Riddle now stood a few steps ahead, looking far too composed to be genuine. Harry frowned at the empty beer bottles lying at the foot of the couch.
"I still can't believe you chose an alcoholic muggle to keep your blood."
"He's an outcast even in this forsaken place," explained Riddle, looking with disgust at the trash. "No family, no friends, no risk of someone coming over to this place and accidentally uncovering the package. Not that they could actually open it, but you get my point."
Riddle was right. The house showed no signs of another tenant and no pictures were framing the walls or decorating the furniture. It was a depressing sight. The floor creaked, alerting them of the presence of the owner. In his hands there was a small black box, lacking any particular design or lock. Taft's gaze was vacant as he handed it to Harry.
He turned to Riddle, who was looking at it with a hungry expression in his eyes.
"Parseltongue?" Harry guessed.
A nod was his only answer as he calmly listened to Riddle's pronunciation of the word 'open' for a few times. In moments like these, Harry really missed being able to speak and understand the language of serpents. He got it on the second try and the box opened with a click. A small vial filled with blood lay innocently inside. He took it out with more care than necessary, holding it in his open palm for Riddle to see it better.
Harry almost dropped the vial at the look of pure terror gracing the other's features. It reminded him of the expression Tom Riddle wore as he realized what Harry was about to do back in his second year at Hogwarts. Right before he stabbed the diary.
"What happened? Is this not your blood or – ?"
Riddle's fingers clenched around his palm as if he was trying to hold the vial himself. But of course, Harry felt no psychical sensation whatsoever. There was only a strange coldness around his hand.
"Someone took a part of it," Riddle growled. "It's not full!"
He was right. The vial was only a little over half full but Harry thought Riddle had poured exactly this precise amount. The older looking man turned to the muggle, a murderous look on his face.
"Stop," Harry blurted and blocked his path. "Let me do the questioning. He can't see you anyway."
Riddle was clearly displeased by the situation but motioned Harry to get on with it. The vial safely tucked in one palm, Harry whipped out his wand before he faced the muggle.
"To whom did you give the box?"
"No one," The man answered in a placid voice.
"Lies," Riddle hissed beside him.
"No, I don't think he's lying," Harry disagreed. "He literally can't. I cast the Imperius on him…"
He could feel Riddle weighing numerous possibilities in his mind before replying.
"Or at least his conscious mind doesn't know."
Harry understood the implication at once. He immediately dove into the man's head and was bombarded with meaningless memories of working in some factory nearby, drinking and occasionally sleeping with a local married woman. He concentrated on thoughts regarding the package, grazing over the time when Riddle had given it to the muggle. Harry was near the point of deciding there was nothing to see when a familiar face made him stop and the particular memory played before his eyes.
He retreated from Taft's head rather violently to find the man crumpled on the floor and gasping for air. Riddle's face immediately obscured his vision.
"What did you see?"
Harry blinked and moved back before losing his footing. Riddle moved to catch him, but his arm passed right through Harry's own. Harry stumbled into a table as he tried to calm his breathing, careful not to put too much pressure on the vial in his hand. Knowing Riddle, he was sure it had several protection charms but Harry wasn't willing to take the risk.
"Do speak, Potter. What did you see?" Riddle chided as he came closer.
Harry considered telling the man to leave him the hell alone for a few seconds but decided against it. This was not the time to argue.
"There was a woman – a witch," Harry finally managed to say. Riddle's eyes were piercing as he waited for him to finish speaking. "She used the same method as we did to deal with the man."
"That's unlikely. No one other than the two of us know about this," Riddle argued. "And it doesn't explain how she could have opened the box."
Harry couldn't stop the hysterical giggle that escaped his lips.
"She's a Seer, the same one that found me out a few months ago to tell me about the prophecy. About the boy I killed. From what I remember by digging through her head, she goes by the name of Althea or something like that."
The muggle let out a pained sound but neither he nor Riddle bothered to spare him even a glance. They were staring at one another. Harry's head was still throbbing but he managed to ignore it as much as possible. Riddle looked livid.
"You were in her mind and found nothing suspicious at all," Riddle echoed, as if he couldn't believe Harry had been that stupid.
"I...At the time, the only thing I could think about was the prophecy," Harry said before he raised his voice in defense. "And if she managed to find a way around your spells, I'm sure as hell she would have been able to easily keep her thoughts away from me."
Harry felt more ashamed than angry. The possibility of the older witch playing him into murdering an innocent child was nagging at him. But he remained silent, watching Riddle's jaw work a few times.
"Once I gain a physical form, you'll show her to me through your memories," Riddle threatened. "And after that, we'll find her and get my blood back."
Riddle could have been speaking to himself but he nodded anyway. Once they brought him back the bond between them would be more powerful than ever. If someone was in possession of one of their blood…The thought was bone-chilling. Not to mention the so-called prophecy she made, but that was for Harry to deal with on his own.
There was also the question of when 'I' changed into a 'we'. Or when he started going along with it so easily.
"And we will. After your resurrection," Harry said and raised the vial once again. "It's enough for it, isn't it?"
It was almost as if the Seer knew the exact amount of blood required for the ritual.
"Now dispose of the muggle and return to your flat," Riddle uttered, distancing himself from Harry. "There we will discuss the details."
He bided his time by the door until Harry muttered the deadly spell before leading them into the cold night.