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Chapter Seventy-Four—The Scandalized In-Laws
Voldemort had not often wanted to grind up a child's bones—there weren't that many useful potions that involved them, contrary to some of the ideas put about by other Dark Lords—but now he did. And the child sat across the table from him, eating biscuits and grinning away as if he didn't have a care in the world.
"Leave him alone," Harry hissed at him. He must have sensed Voldemort's mood and thought he could turn it aside.
"You are not going to get married," said Lily Potter.
Voldemort glared at her, and she turned pale, but she continued to sit there and stare at him instead of running away screaming, which eliminated at least a few of the plans he would otherwise have made. He despised this woman as he despised nearly everyone who had a claim on Harry, but he could see how and why a version of her would have stood against him and sacrificed her life to save her son in other worlds.
"It's not something that's currently on my mind at the moment," Voldemort said. "But when the distant day comes that Harry might grant me the honor of knowing what he would like to do, it is one of the options."
"You are not," James Potter burst out.
Voldemort switched his glare to him. James's face was red, and although Voldemort had the impression that he ordinarily would have flinched back, he didn't this time. Perhaps he was too angry to do so. He formed his hand into a fist and slammed it several times into the table to make a point.
Voldemort waited a moment, then asked, "I'm sorry, was that supposed to impress me?"
"Voldemort. They're only trying to protect me."
"Your brother is not."
"I'll deal with Jonathan later," Harry said, and glared at his brother himself. It changed neither the biscuit-eating nor the grin. "But my parents are—they're only trying to protect me," he repeated, and then shifted back in his chair.
Voldemort hoped it was away from what Harry saw in his face. He shook his head in silent scorn. "And that only proves that I was right. I am the only one here who understands you and does not try to force you back into a human mode."
"You do not need protection. I know that. I might wish to extend it to you, but I wouldn't do it in the matter of your romantic entanglements, or whom you married. I know that you need no such defense. Your parents do not." Voldemort jerked his chin at the adult Potters, who still glared at him. "They see me as a monster taking advantage of an innocent boy. They do not see you as you are."
Harry squinted at his parents as if he doubted the truth of Voldemort's assertion, and then sighed. "Mum, Dad," he said in English. "I promise you that I'm not going to run out right now and marry Voldemort."
"He just wants to," Jonathan added around a mouthful of biscuit crumbs.
"Jonathan, you are not helping."
"I thought you needed new experiences," Jonathan said, and shrugged, and reached for another biscuit.
Lily, looking as though she was glad to have something normal to do, reached out and snatched the tin away from him. "No more until after dinner, young man. You'll spoil your appetite."
Under the cover of Jonathan Potter arguing loudly with his mother about whether or not that was true, Voldemort hissed softly to Harry, "You see?"
Voldemort shook his head. "She treats him as a child, because he is. But she does not have the right to do that to you. She does not need to do that to you. And yet she does. She willingly forgets what you are whenever she can."
Harry was silent for a moment, and Voldemort wondered if he was the only one who could see the darkness and lightning in those eyes as Harry's gaze flickered back and forth between Lily and Jonathan. "She enjoys being a mum."
"She does not need to treat you like a child, however."
Harry opened his mouth, but James Potter's patience apparently snapped in two before he could make any reply. "Stop with all the bloody hissing! You aren't going to plan your wedding, or your elopement, or—or whatever this is!"
Voldemort turned his glare back on the man, and this time, the red color fled his face so fast that Voldemort would not have been surprised to see him slump over in a faint. He might have preferred it.
But Harry's arm touching his prevented him from speaking, in turn.
Harry did have to admit that Jonathan had succeeded in one thing, at least: he was definitely giving Harry a new experience.
Not that Harry wanted this particular one.
He pulled together his whirling thoughts and pressed down hard with his arm against Voldemort's to keep him from exploding. Then he said, "We aren't planning our wedding, or anything remotely like it. We do want to wait for anything that happens. My body is too young, no matter how old my spirit is, and, well, both of us have plenty of time."
"But you can't," Lily said, and put her hands over her mouth. Harry didn't know why, at first, until he realized that he could see the delicate carapaces of insects who had died in the dining room over the years scattered in the corners. He must have dropped at least part of the shield he instinctively kept pulled over what and who he was around his parents.
Harry half-closed his eyes and pulled on his patience as much as he could, restraining it, reclaiming his control. Yes, he was the Master of Death. Yes, he was glad that in this world, he had people who loved and understood him the way he was.
But, as much as he hated to admit it, Voldemort was right. His parents weren't those people. They loved him without understanding him in anything other than name.
So tell them more, he told himself. You can't blame them for misunderstanding if you keep it to yourself and never tell them that it bothers you.
He opened his eyes and said calmly, "How many people do you think have understood me, in all the worlds I've lived in?"
That at least made his parents think about what they were saying instead of giving denials right away. James and Lily exchanged glances, and then Lily said, "I thought you told us that no one was ever aware of who you were before. Well, except during your first life, when you didn't have this kind of reincarnation."
Harry nodded in response. "And now I have someone who understands me, and people who are aware of what I am. I'd like them to get along. I'd like my parents not to assume that I'm immediately getting married to the only person who understands me, and I'd like them not to tell me that I never can."
"He's a Dark Lord!" James's face was turning red again.
"And in some ways, I'm worse," Harry said quietly. "I'm the one who trapped Albus in his own mind, living some of his worst hallucinations, as revenge for what he did to Jonathan. Voldemort might have wanted to do that to his enemies, but most of the time, he just killed them."
"I would have done it if I had had the power or the means."
"Or if you had thought of the idea. You didn't. Shut up."
Voldemort blinked and did so. James, meanwhile, was saying, "But you can't—you can't want to marry someone you hated in so many other worlds."
"I've had so many relationships with so many people in so many other worlds," Harry said wearily. "Sometimes, I had to fight someone I'd married just the life before. Sometimes, I didn't have a chance to be part of the lives of people I'd have liked to have been a part of because I was born the wrong species, or lived too short a life, or was born to people on the other side, or lived too far away. I had accepted there was nothing I could do about that.
"And then Voldemort showed me I was wrong."
"What do you mean?" James's face at least wasn't that red anymore, although Harry thought that was because he was confused rather than placated.
"It means that he was the one sending himself back to these worlds and controlling his reincarnation all along, and he didn't realize it because he's kind of an idiot," said Jonathan through another mouthful of crumbs. He had reclaimed the biscuit tin.
Harry stared at him. Jonathan raised his eyebrows at Harry and reached for another biscuit. "What?"
"Do you have to do that?"
"What? Interrupting, telling the truth, or eating while I do it?" Jonathan opened his mouth to display the half-eaten biscuits for just a moment, then shut his mouth and chewed it again. "Sorry. I have to do all of them."
Harry stared at him again. Jonathan looked back, utterly unintimidated.
Okay. I have someone else in this world who loves and understands me besides Voldemort.
Harry couldn't help smiling even as he waved his hand and Vanished the biscuit tin, and ignored Jonathan's indignant sound. "My pig of a brother is right. I could have been born anywhere and at any time in the world, but I kept limiting myself to a fairly specific time, a span of years where I would be able to know people from my original lifetime and help defeat Voldemort. I thought of myself as a slave to the Deathly Hallows. I'm not. I control my own destiny more than I wanted to admit."
"Which means what?" Lily spoke in a tone so low that Harry couldn't tell if it was hopeful or not. From the way her eyes traveled back and forth between him and Voldemort, though, he thought that what she hoped for might be different from what he did.
"It means," Harry sighed, as he ignored Jonathan's stare from the side of the table, "that I'm finally willing to have things change. I don't think I need to repeat the same limited patterns again and again—"
"You've told us about lives that you were a Dementor and a Kneazle in," James said. "That hardly sounds limited to me."
"It still was," Harry said. "When I was a Dementor, I dedicated myself to defeating the Voldemort of that world. When I was a Kneazle, I was a pet who had belonged to one of my best friends in my first life." He shook his head. "And I stayed in that pet shop for year after long, boring year, waiting for her, because I believed that I was somehow destined to do that. I could have done anything else. I could have enjoyed life as an animal, for the first time. But I didn't."
"And now you're willing to date Voldemort because of that?"
"Yes, Mum," Harry said, and saw something in Lily's face relax. Perhaps she had thought that his newfound acceptance of himself meant that he was no longer willing to consider them his parents. "Things can change. I can tell people the truth about myself, and nothing bad will happen."
"Except endless pranks in the night because you stole my biscuits."
"If you do not shut him up, I will—"
"Do nothing because he's my brother and I would never forgive you."
Voldemort's rising magic calmed immediately. Harry smiled a little. The one good thing about Voldemort's obsession with immortality, and having Harry be immortal with him, was that "never" meant something literal to him that it didn't to most people.
"Shut up, Jonathan," Harry said pleasantly, and faced his parents again. "Like I said, we're not going to run away and get married tomorrow. You'll have years to accept this."
"How long?" James shrugged when Harry looked at him. "I think we should know what kind of timeline we're working with here."
"We can't know that exactly," Harry said. "We won't start a relationship while I'm still physically a child, because we don't want to. But beyond that…" He shook his head. "I can't tell you the date that you'll get wedding invitations, if that's what you're looking for."
"But you could meet and marry someone else!" Lily blurted abruptly. Her eyes were shining with hope, the kind that Harry had seen blaze through her eyes in other worlds and fuel her strength of spirit. "You could—how do you know that you won't fall in love with and marry that nice girl you wrote to us about? Hermione?"
"Who is she?"
"A friend, shut up," Harry hissed back, and faced his parents again. "Because of how this world is different. I have people who know what and who I am here. Last time, to fall in love with people like Hermione, I had to leave that whole part of my personality out. Why wouldn't I want the person who most accepts me?"
The words struck Voldemort like the coming of spring.
Charm means nothing here. Power means nothing here. Immortality only matters because it's part of why I understand him.
To keep Harry, he only had to—accept.
An easy thing. But look how hard it is for them.
True. Voldemort only had to look into the Potter parents' faces to see how they were struggling with it. And that was only the history of Harry and Voldemort in this world where Voldemort had kidnapped him as a child. They weren't even thinking of the burden other worlds had placed on Harry, and his millennia-long conviction that nothing would change.
Voldemort sat back in his chair and clasped his shaking hands in his lap. Harry shot him a narrow glance, but even the Master of Death wasn't all-knowing, apparently. He turned back to reassuring his parents with a long-suffering look.
"Do you understand now?" Harry asked gently. "That you'll have years to get used to this, but things are also going to be different?"
James closed his eyes for a second, struggling. Voldemort could remain silent, because that was what Harry would want him to do, and so he did.
But as he had thought likely, James lost part of the struggle against his temper, even if he won the rest of it. His eyes flew open, and he surged forwards, pounding one hand against the tabletop again. "How do we know that you haven't taken advantage of our son already, Dark Lord?"
Voldemort blinked. The specific form the accusation had taken had surprised him enough that he couldn't say anything for a moment.
And then it turned out that he didn't need to. Because an answer came, but not from Harry's direction.
Jonathan had his head buried in his arms on the table, giggling so hard that it sounded like he was vomiting up the biscuits he had already crammed down his gullet. Voldemort tried to draw back without making it obvious that he was.
"Jonathan?" Lily Potter sounded bewildered.
Jonathan lifted his head, and yes, he was laughing, and at least Voldemort couldn't see any bits of half-digested food coming up his throat. He shook his head, got the better of the laughter, and said, "Listen, my brother can turn himself into darkness and lightning and is a bloody force of nature. You think Voldemort could take advantage of him even if he wanted to?"
"His body is a child's!" James yelled.
"My mind and heart aren't," Harry said gently. "We are going to wait, I told you. But no, Voldemort hasn't—I don't know what you're imagining, Father, and I don't know that I want to. No, he hasn't seduced me. Is that good enough for you?"
"It just seems the kind of thing that he would do," James muttered, but Voldemort knew it was more the last struggle of someone who didn't want to believe the truth than a real threat.
Still, he said, "And you have the makings of someone who would follow whatever person gave you a good enough reason, whether that person was—"
Harry reached down and pressed a hand on his knee. It was only once, but it was enough. Voldemort nodded and looked back at Harry. Harry smiled at him and then at his parents. "I'm glad that we've got this settled."
"It's still hard to accept." Lily shook her head.
"As long as you accept it, Mother, it doesn't need to be completely, one hundred percent easy for you," Harry said, which was politer than what Voldemort would have managed, and so he kept his peace.
There was silence while James was obviously going to be guarded by his wife's dictates, and his wife was still obviously struggling with what must remain of her morals after years of following Dumbledore. Then she nodded. "Yes, I agree."
"And in the meantime, you can give me back my biscuits!" Jonathan chirped in a high voice.
Voldemort felt his eye twitch. He didn't know what would be harder to put up with: such a brother-in-law, or such parents-in-law.
But he did know that whatever price he had to pay for Harry, it would never be high enough. And that made him relax, at long last.
I will do this. I will myself to do this.