A/N: Replies are at the end of the chapter!)
Chapter Six: Threads and Chains. Part 2.
When they saw each other again, it was during breakfast, and though they hadn't had a chance to talk yet, Tom was still glowing with happiness. It was sparkling around him like a crown, lighting his face and making it deceptively innocent, and Harry found his attention drawn to it every other minute. He was unable to concentrate on anything else — Tom stole his focus, outshining the rest of the world, so by the time everyone was finished with their food, Harry's plate remained full.
Embarrassed, he hastened to gulp down a sausage, thinking unwillingly about Ron and his dinner habits. Watching him eat had never been pleasant, but his methods were effective in situations like this, so why not? It's not like Hermione was around to throw a reproachful look at him.
When Harry was finally done chewing, he dared to look up again before immediately jerking back in surprise. Tom was standing right next to him, with a small indulgent smile on his lips.
"This looked even worse than how you eat at home in the mornings," he remarked, and Harry spluttered.
"I eat fine at home," he protested automatically. "At least I do when you aren't trying to blow up food in my face."
"That excuse no longer works. I haven't done anything like that in years."
"I suppose I've been accidentally making self-combustive dishes, then."
Tom laughed softly before reaching forward and putting his hand on Harry's arm. The touch was light, but the fingers wrapped around him possessively, and with a startled jolt, Harry recalled where they were.
In the Great Hall. Having breakfast. With the entire school watching them, from students to teachers to Merlin knew whom. They weren't at home, it wasn't their kitchen, and Tom had just approached him and demonstrated an unacceptable level of familiarity just to publicly establish their connection, to prove he was on friendly terms with a new professor.
Had he been worried about someone noticing he hadn't eaten his breakfast just a moment ago? Listening to a lecture on healthy eating had suddenly become an extremely appealing prospect.
"If you don't let go, I'll curse you," Harry hissed as quietly as he could, but Tom just raised a deeply unimpressed eyebrow.
"Cursing students on your first day? How unprofessional of you."
If so many people weren't watching them at this moment, Harry would have gladly sent a mild hex his way, but doing this would be ten times worse than what had already taken place. Tom was right, he couldn't be seen cursing students, even — or maybe especially — those he shared a personal connection with.
Well, he could always pay him back later.
Judging from how Tom narrowed his eyes suspiciously, the same thought had entered his head. Smiling, Harry stood up, finally forcing him to remove his hand.
"Go back to your table, Mr. Slytherin," he said lightly. "I'll see you at today's lesson."
"I look forward to it," Tom murmured, a familiar devilish glint in his eyes. He was already calculating what Harry could respond with and planning his own counter-moves, and a warm wave of excitement rose in Harry's chest, sending a thrum of joy through it.
No empty months ahead. No meaningless days spent in frustration and longing — he could look after Tom constantly now, doing the exact same things they did back at home.
Trying to hold back his foolish grin, Harry threw a casual glance at other professors and faltered.
None of them looked amused. Some were bewildered; others, like Dippet, were frowning in confusion, and Dumbledore was watching him with tight disapproval etched into every line on his face.
The happiness dimmed and Harry turned away, walking towards the exit and hoping he didn't look as dismayed as he felt.
This was a bad start. Dumbledore had brought him here to be a figure of authority, to ensure a stricter control over Tom's actions. Instead, Harry allowed himself to relax and react teasingly to a clear challenge of his position. Regardless of their relationship outside of Hogwarts, he couldn't be seen giving Tom liberties that others were prohibited from. Power games weren't acceptable, especially when they were played so openly. He'd have to be more careful.
He'd also have to get Tom to behave, but this wasn't as difficult or impossible as someone like Dumbledore might think.
Tom wanted him here. It meant that he would be willing to agree to any compromise for Harry to stay. Maybe the first morning had been disastrous for his reputation, but there was still plenty of time to change it.
He would start with the first lesson.
Fortunately, things began to look up almost immediately — his first students were pleased with him, Harry could say that with certainty. They responded to his questions eagerly and even looked reluctant to leave, which was more than he could ask for.
After two successful lessons, the worry faded, and the memory of his colleagues' unvoiced criticism stopped stinging as much. Lunch passed peacefully, so when the time for Tom's lesson came, his mood brightened back into brilliance.
Teaching Gryffindors and Slytherins together had always seemed like a very strange choice to Harry, but to his surprise, the group that arrived appeared to get along rather well. Not that they were all chatting amicably, but there was no hostility that he could remember back from his own classes either. It exceeded most of his tentative hopes.
Tom, as expected, took his place in the first row, and Harry smiled at him before he could stop himself.
All right, so maybe he still had to work on remembering his place. But he hadn't thought this would be easy, had he? Learning how to draw a professional line in these circumstances was bound to take time, and he was going to do his best, even if Tom refused to be helpful.
Harry waited until everyone quietened down before clearing his throat.
"Hello," he greeted them. For some reason, talking to these students was more difficult than with his Tom-less classes. "My name is Harry Potter. You are unlikely to have heard of me before, but I've spent years practicing defence against the dark arts. There is a lot I could teach you, and with your cooperation, I'm sure we'll be able to surpass what the school board expects from students your age by the end of this year."
Harry was fully prepared to intercept sneers or sceptical smirks in response to his words. He knew he looked much younger than other professors — more than that, he had virtually no reputation at this point, so it was only natural for his students to have doubts.
However, to his surprise, there was nothing. Gryffindors were watching him with open curiosity while Slytherins' faces remained frozen in polite blankness. No grimaces, no eye-rolling, no whispered comments — no anything, not from anyone.
Huh. There had been some sneers and dissatisfaction even among the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs at the beginning of their lessons. For Gryffindors and Slytherins to be immediately willing to give him a chance? Another pleasant surprise. Or maybe…
Harry's eyes strayed to Tom for a moment.
Maybe today's display during breakfast wasn't about boasting of having personal ties with a professor. Maybe Tom was staking his claim in another way, making it clear that Harry was the one to be respected because of having ties with him.
Or it could be both. After all, Tom was a Slytherin through and through, and his protectiveness was something Harry had witnessed multiple times, in multiple ways. Hogwarts wouldn't be an exception.
A ridiculous rush of fondness flooded him, and with an effort, Harry made himself look away.
"I don't know any of you yet," he spoke again, then caught Tom's glare and amended, "Almost any of you. So today, we are going to change that. This lesson will be theoretical in nature, but eventually, we'll have plenty of practice as well, so don't worry about it. Let's start with some questions. How many of you have ever participated in a duel? A training or a real one, doesn't matter."
Out of sixteen students, nine raised their hands. Harry nodded at them in acknowledgement, carefully ignoring the way Tom was staring at him. He'd learned his lesson — catching Tom's eye meant being unable to concentrate on anything else, which would undermine his every attempt to achieve progress and prove himself as a competent and unbiased teacher.
"By the end of this month, all of you will have practical experience with duelling. But first, I'd like to learn about your way of thinking," Harry walked around his table and leaned against it, observing his classroom. "Imagine that you are facing your opponent. What would be the first spell you use?"
Tom's hand flew up, the need to be chosen for a reply written so starkly on his face that Harry couldn't help but think of Hermione. A sudden lump in his throat made his breath hitch, but he swallowed around it, shaking his head slightly.
During his own time at Hogwarts, he had always found Hermione's frantic desire to reply to every question exasperating. With Tom, the feeling was the opposite.
He felt warm. He felt pleased. He felt indulgent. And this was the problem, wasn't it? Indulgence. The inability to assess Tom and everything related to him rationally.
Several other students had also raised their hands, but Harry's lips moved without his permission.
Tom beamed at him, making Harry's foolish heart swell in mirroring happiness.
"Expelliarmus," Tom said confidently. "Disarming an opponent as fast as possible is always the best strategy in a duel."
Harry blinked, unsure if he'd heard it correctly.
Expelliarmus? Really? This was something he would choose, but it would never be Tom's strategy. Tom thought Expelliarmus was one of the most boring spells ever invented. Quick bloodless victory would never appeal to him — this was something Harry had been forced to accept long ago.
Tom had given him a reply he thought Harry wanted to hear. Was it about pleasing him? Or was it an attempt to hide and show off the kind of morality Harry knew for sure Tom didn't possess? He didn't find lies impressive. Especially when they were so outrageously obvious.
"Very good," he said evenly, watching how Tom's joyful glow faded, turning into a frown. "Anyone else?"
Some people raised their hands again, although their number had dropped, particularly among the Slytherins. What, had they wanted to say Expelliarmus as well? Was Hogwarts of these times really so different from the one Harry had known?
"You, please," he pointed at a blonde Gryffindor in the third row. "Miss…?"
"Caroline Williamson," the girl replied. "I would use the Invisibility Charm on myself. It would take my opponent aback, which would give me more time to come up with a strategy."
Harry nodded approvingly, but Tom's sneering voice interrupted him before he could even say anything.
"There is no such charm."
"There is," Williamson furrowed her brows. "My parents told me about it."
"Either you remembered it wrong or they didn't know what they were talking about," Tom retorted coldly. "The Invisibility Charm can make an area disappear from view, it doesn't work on people the way you implied. Perhaps you meant the Invisibility Spell?"
"They are the same thing!"
"No, they are not. Do you not understand the difference between a charm and a spell?"
"That's enough," Harry said sharply, sending a warning glance in Tom's direction. How could everything go downhill this fast? "I support discussions, but don't let them turn into quarrels. You are here to learn, and learning means making mistakes."
Tom's lips twitched in a clear desire to make another poisonous retort, but Harry glared at him, so he crossed his arms against his chest, saying nothing.
"Now, Mr. Slytherin was right about the nature of the charm you mentioned, Miss Williamson. Your idea is undeniably creative, but I'm afraid neither Invisibility Charm or Spell would work here because they cannot be cast on people. A Disillusionment Charm would be a better choice if you wanted to use your shape against your opponent. Who can tell me what characteristics it has?"
Tom raised his hand again, but even though every Harry's instinct urged him to choose him, he tried to override them. Obviously, his mind couldn't be trusted, so he'd have to set specific goals and then rely on them.
By the end of this hour, he would learn every name of every student. Maybe he wouldn't remember them all yet, but he would talk to each of them at least once. That would be enough for today.
When the lesson finally ended, most students looked flushed with excitement. They all wanted to duel as soon as possible, refusing to deflate even when Harry warned that it couldn't happen right away. Miss Williamson, on the contrary, looked very subdued, but there was little Harry could do to improve her first impression now.
Maybe he should have taken points from Tom? His words had been an attack, not a polite disagreement. On the other hand, he hadn't said anything truly offensive, and it's not like he wasn't right.
Harry's thoughts came to a halt when the last students left the room, with Tom being the only one who stayed behind. The moment the door was shut, Tom whirled around to face him, bristling with indignation.
"You love Expelliarmus," he spat. "Why didn't you like my answer?"
"Because it was a lie?" Harry slipped his fingers under his glasses, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I didn't ask you which spell I would like. I asked which one you would use."
Tom's snort somehow managed to sound both offensive and offended.
"So you would have preferred me to name a dark curse that would irreversibly break the legs of my opponent?"
"What?" Harry straightened in alarm. "No."
"But that's what I would use," Tom taunted, his tone getting uglier. "It's effective and it gives a real advantage in a duel."
"I can't believe you even thought of saying something like this. This kind of spell is—"
"What, crude? Sadistic? Does it offend your sensibilities? You criticise me for lying but you don't like hearing the truth just as much!"
"It's illegal!" Harry raised his voice, and Tom miraculously shut up. Good. He could be so short-sighted that sometimes Harry couldn't help but worry. "I don't care if you break the legs of your actual enemy in a life-or-death duel, but you can't talk about dark spells like this during lessons where everyone can hear you! If someone reported you, what do you think would happen? Dippet would probably throw me out for not reporting you myself, and there will definitely be questions neither of us will be able to answer."
Tom mulled over it, the tension slowly seeping out, along with hostility he'd been emanating for a larger part of the lesson.
"So what did you want me to say, then?" he asked finally, calmer this time.
"Anything that wouldn't be a downright lie or a crime," Harry pushed himself against his table again, crossing his legs. "I'm sure your imagination could help you to come up with something interesting. Something that you could actually consider using; something that would awe your classmates and impress me."
An embarrassed flush travelled up Tom's face. He pursed his lips so tightly that they turned into one barely noticeable line, looking angry and regretful simultaneously. The desire to turn back time, to give an answer Harry would praise him for was coming out of him in waves, ones so palpable that it was almost painful to withstand them.
"You were still the smartest student in this class," Harry said, but it didn't seem to make Tom feel better — if anything, he appeared even more sullen now, his expression steadily growing darker.
Well, there was a tested method that never failed to work.
"Come here," Harry uttered, his voice softening. The glance Tom threw at him was sour, but he moved anyway, albeit reluctantly.
As soon as he approached the table, Harry opened his arms. Tom paused, and then he walked right into them, wrapping his own hands around Harry's neck tightly.
Ending up with his nose pressed against Tom's throat, Harry couldn't help but breathe in the familiar comforting smell, and the tiredness from today melted away in an instant. His chest sang with warmth, and he inhaled again, burying his face in Tom's skin instinctively, registering how Tom shuddered and immediately tightened his hold, pushing closer.
'I missed you,' Harry thought. Tenderness overfilled him, leaving its tingling touches with every gentle press to his heart.
"I missed you," Tom whispered, echoing him aloud. "When I saw you sitting there, I… It was too impossible to be true. I thought I might be seeing things. Why didn't you tell me you were coming to work here?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise," Harry tried to pull back but Tom refused to let go, so he relaxed again. "And seeing your face was certainly worth it. I don't think you've ever looked this astonished. Except maybe that time when the passing car splashed dirt all over your clothes."
Tom grumbled something incoherently before laying his head on top of Harry's with a sigh.
"We should set some boundaries," Harry muttered, and smiled when a predictably displeased growl followed.
"These ones will be for school only, and they are for our mutual benefit. I promise."
Tom finally pulled back enough to look at him, though he didn't bother to move away.
"Which ones?" he asked. His cheeks were burning even brighter now, and Harry touched one of them, amused.
"The ones that will ensure I'm not fired by the end of the week," he replied, raising his eyebrows when Tom just leaned into his touch, closing his eyes. Tom had always been very tactile, at least with him, but this was too much. They hadn't been separated for even a day this time, there was nothing to warrant this kind of reaction.
"Hey," Harry moved his fingers to Tom's chin, tilting it carefully. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." Tom opened his eyes again, staring at him a little unfocusedly. "What boundaries did you mean?"
"The public ones." Hesitating briefly, Harry started to remove his hand, but Tom caught it before he could lower it, entwining their fingers.
Okay. Whatever was happening, Tom needed physical comfort. Harry could provide it.
"What happened today at breakfast cannot happen again," he spoke, watching how Tom raised their intertwined fingers to his face, pressing his cheek to them absent-mindedly. "You cannot flaunt the fact that we have a personal relationship in front of everyone. It's unprofessional."
"But everyone already knows that you are mine."
Harry swallowed a snort, unsure if he should find this funny or irritating. Not that Tom's declaration was surprising.
"Yes, which is a problem in itself," he explained patiently. "And when you parade it like this, it's making me look even more unprofessional. I cannot be seen indulging you more than I do other students. So if I allow you to approach me during dinner and touch me, I'll have to allow others to do the same."
"What?" As expected, this was something Tom understood very well. He straightened quickly, the flush finally fading from his face, replaced by alarm. "No."
"Then don't do it again. Not publicly."
Displeasure poured out of Tom, the faint feel of his magic rippling through the air.
"Fine," he said shortly. "Something else?"
"You have to understand that the same rules will apply during the lessons. I can't always choose you to answer my questions. You won't be the only student I praise, and if you do something like you did with Miss Williamson again, I will take points from you."
Tom stepped away, so clearly outraged that Harry actually felt a stirring of unease. He didn't think they would be having real problems on the first day, but then again, with Tom, it was impossible to know for sure.
"I was right!"
"You were rude."
"Well, she was an idiot."
"She's a student, she has a right to make mistakes. So do you."
"I don't make mistakes, especially such imbecilic ones!"
"Tom." Harry refused to raise his voice, but he put enough steel in it to mark the end of this conversation. Tom grimaced, something frustrated flashing across his face before he schooled it.
"Fine," he said again, though this time, it was through gritted teeth. "Is that all?"
"Yes." Even if he could think of some more rules, now was obviously not the time to discuss them. Violence was rolling off Tom in billows, thick and bitter — he had to be given time to calm down before they could proceed.
"I'll see you at dinner, then," Tom turned away, clenching his bag in his hands. But contrary to his words, he didn't leave. For a while, he kept standing motionlessly, saying nothing, and when he faced Harry again, a surprisingly serene smile shone on his lips.
"And you will see me," he said. Harry nodded warily, unsure what it meant besides the obvious.
Apprehension tugged at him, settling somewhere low in his stomach, and it stayed there long after Tom left.
After Tom's strange behaviour, Harry was suspicious of going to dinner, but he knew he had no chance of escaping it. If he didn't come, Tom might decide to go looking for him, and this would end even worse than whatever it was he was planning.
To his surprise, though, nothing happened. Tom's eyes found him the moment he entered the Great Hall, and while he smiled in a way that wasn't entirely reassuring, he didn't do anything out of ordinary. In fact, when Harry took his seat, Tom raised a thick book he was holding, showing it off, as if demonstrating he was otherwise occupied.
Shrugging, Harry focused on his food.
The dinner was calm and boring. The professors next to him kept talking about something quietly, but while in any other situation, Harry might have felt compelled to get acquainted, he was too tired to bother with it now. He knew Dumbledore, Dippet, and Slughorn already. That was enough for one day.
He finished sooner than others, so muttering a goodnight, he stood up and walked towards the door, only to collide with another teacher who was rushing inside.
"Sorry," Harry said automatically, moving to the side to let him pass, but the man froze, staring at him with wide, shocked eyes.
"You!" he breathed out. His face turned almost grey. Harry reached for him in concern, but the man recoiled so violently that he nearly fell over.
That was… They'd never even met, what could possibly cause such a reaction?
Harry paused when something shifted in his memory.
Come to think of it, the man did look a bit familiar. Maybe not immediately, not directly, but…
Oh. This was Tom's Divinations professor. The one who had made a useless death prediction and whom Tom had injured in his fury.
"How are your hands?" Harry blurted out before wincing and mentally kicking himself. Of all things to say, how could he have possibly chosen this one?
The professor also didn't look impressed. If anything, he turned greyer, and the first flickers of terror dashed through his gaze, as if he thought Harry was playing some malicious joke on him.
"Look, I don't know what your problem with me is," Harry hissed. Carefully, he glanced at where Tom was sitting and cringed. Of course Tom had already spotted them. Even from here, Harry could see how rigidly tense he was, how tightly his hands were gripping the book. His eyes were fixed on the professor — and honestly, it was completely insulting. Did Tom think Harry was incapable of holding his own? He was a DADA teacher! He was the one who'd taught Tom everything he knew about duelling!
On the other hand, Tom seemed to believe Harry would wither if anyone as much as looked at him wrong, so it wasn't about doubting him, it was about Tom being unreasonable and overly protective.
But Harry still didn't want to imagine the possible consequences if he didn't resolve this mess soon. And damn it, he didn't even remember the man's name.
"You shouldn't be here!" the professor raised his finger, pointing at Harry's chest shakily, and with the corner of his eye, Harry saw how Tom stiffened even more, half-rising from his place. "It's against the laws!"
Dread twitched inside, infusing his blood with ice, but with an effort, Harry melted it back into calmness.
Trelawney had been one of the very few real seers. Dumbledore had never mentioned anyone else, so whoever this person was, he couldn't know anything for certain. Maybe he did sense something, but vague suspicions weren't a threat to him — Harry knew he would be able to deal with them if needed.
"I think there has been a misunderstanding," he said as pleasantly as he could manage. He had to end this conversation now, before they attracted everyone's attention. "I'm Harry Potter, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. I know you had a conflict with Tom, but I hope we can leave it behind us. We are both professionals, aren't we?"
The man's lips moved, but no sound escaped.
"Right," Harry forced himself to laugh, trying to look at ease for Tom to calm down and sit back before he did anything stupid. "I'll see you around, then."
No reply followed, so he hurried out of the Great Hall, still disturbed, but mostly relieved.
It wasn't over, he knew it — he and this man would have to talk again at some point, but at least it wouldn't happen today, and if Harry had any say in it, it wouldn't be anywhere in Tom's vicinity.
Good thing that Tom had no idea in what room he was staying because Harry didn't want to have this conversation with him either. Right now, all he needed was change his clothes and throw himself into bed. Everything else could wait.
Exploring Hogwarts anew felt like opening a beloved childhood book. Despite the fact that the time was different, most things remained exactly the same, from crooked corridors and busy ghosts to mischievous staircases and grumbling portraits. And magic — magic was everywhere. It was in the flawless reflection of the sky in the Great Hall, in the candles that floated in the air, lighting the school with thousands flames. It was in the books that tried to slip away when Harry tried to touch them and in the screeching owls that carried messages and demanded treats, self-entitled and frighteningly intelligent.
A wistful, aching nostalgia pooled in his heart, and during the breaks between his lessons, Harry found himself just wandering through the corridors, touching the walls and stupidly hoping they remembered him, thinking of how Ron and Hermione were going to be touching them decades from now, how their laughter would fill the corridors. Maybe, if he were still here at that time, he would get to see it. He would be able to teach them, to watch them carefree and happy, with no concern for the war and its deadly consequences.
This train of thinking inevitably brought him back to Tom, and thinking of Tom meant remembering the foolish game they were currently playing.
In retrospect, it wasn't smart to goad Tom into anything, but sometimes Harry simply couldn't help himself. It all started with a predictable question of "Where are your rooms?" Harry knew that he'd have to reply sooner or later — he wanted Tom to be able to find him in the case of emergency, but he also hoped to delay this moment for at least a few weeks. He knew Tom, which is why he also knew the requests he would inevitably make, from spending an increasing number of hours in his chambers to moving in there permanently. Somehow, Harry doubted that Dumbledore would consider it normal, but he also doubted his own ability to banish Tom when needed, so the later he had to deal with it, the better.
Tom, as expected, wasn't thrilled with being denied. The expression on his face was getting progressively darker, and in a minute of despair, Harry offered one of the most stupid and half-baked ideas he'd ever had.
"If you manage to impress me enough to make me forget about what a disaster letting you into my rooms is going to be, I'll tell you," he said. Watching how an arrogant smile began to slowly spread across Tom's lips, he instantly panicked. Who knew what Tom understood under the word "impress"? Harry wasn't keen on having his classroom explode or seeing his students switch limbs or whatever else Tom's mind could come up with. "Professionally," he hastened to add. "Since I'm your Defence teacher, why don't you try to… to... to sneak up on me. Take me aback. Without using any spells or asking others for help."
Arrogance shifted into incredulity. Harry couldn't believe the rubbish he'd just blurted out himself, so he opened his mouth again to take the stupid offer back when Tom's face lit up with excitement.
"Sneak up on you," he repeated. "Sure. Why not?"
Harry still groaned at the thought of what his lips had let out, but it was too late. It seemed like Tom didn't consider himself above childish games, and he treated the whole thing as seriously as he would an actual assignment.
Which put Harry in a difficult position of staying vigil all the time and trying to hide what was happening from others. Slughorn and Dumbledore were already watching him as if they thought he wasn't in his right mind, and in this case, Harry had to agree with them. He tried to appear nonchalant, but his eyes kept tracking Tom warily, and he carefully inspected every place he walked into to make sure there was nothing or no one waiting for him there.
Tom looked extremely amused every time he caught him doing it, and seeing the dancing mirth in his eyes made a fluttery warmth blossom in Harry's chest, compensating for every time he felt like an idiot in the presence of his colleagues.
Another good thing was that due to staying attentive all the time, Harry managed to avoid having a direct confrontation the Divinations professor. Apparently, his name was Rivers, and he acted completely normally as long as he didn't see Harry in front of him. When it did happen, his eyes immediately went wild, so Harry took to walking in the opposite direction whenever they crossed paths.
Like now. Rivers stopped at the end of the same corridor, staring at him, so Harry promptly turned away and sped towards his chambers. Fortunately, he wasn't that far away from them.
Once inside, he closed the door, pushing his forehead against it and breaking into half-hysterical laughter.
This was ridiculous. He was a grown man who'd seen more than most people here could imagine, more than any seer, fake or real, could describe, and yet here he was, being forced to hide in his rooms just to escape the rambling of one single and not entirely sane person. But worst of all, he found his current position inappropriately funny, which was something his rational side couldn't understand.
It was a potentially dangerous situation. Rivers might be half-mad, but how long until Dumbledore decided to listen to him? How long until he noticed that Harry wasn't aging properly and started to connect the dots? But instead of taking proper actions, Harry was hiding here and giggling like a child; playing a sneaking up game with Tom, as if they were twelve and had nothing better to do… And the truth was, he didn't want to stop. Not even if other people were starting to notice.
Maybe there was something wrong with him — even more wrong than he had thought initially. Maybe returning to Hogwarts had affected his mind adversely, and this behaviour was some sick attempt to relive his teenage years by using Tom as an excuse. Why else would he be enjoying this to such extent?
A subtle shift in the air somewhere behind him cleared Harry's head in an instant, killing off his laughter.
Old habits tended to stick around — he might not have been an Auror in years, he had no reason to expect someone to stab him in the back, but if his instincts flared to life, he knew better than to question them.
Whirling around, Harry sent a Stupefy in the direction where he sensed someone's presence. This someone ducked just in time to avoid being hit, and then Tom's shocked eyes dug into him, causing Harry to lower his wand instinctively.
"Tom?" he asked in disbelief. "What are you doing here?"
Huffing, Tom straightened, dusting his robe.
"How did you know I was there?" he wondered petulantly. "I didn't make any noise."
"Believe it or not, I can sense when someone is sneaking up on me," Harry noted dryly, hiding his wand. Tom crossed his arms, looking even more annoyed.
"You almost hit me with that spell," he accused. "It went an inch from my hair."
"Well, I didn't know it was you, did I? Breaking into someone's rooms is never a safe decision."
Tom's scowl was verging on being a pout now, and Harry felt an involuntary smile breaking out on his face.
"Your reaction was brilliant," he praised. "I don't think any of your classmates would be able to move this quickly, and that includes those older than you."
Tom inclined his head, a pleased flicker softening his eyes briefly before a frown marred his features again.
"But you were faster than me," he said slowly. "I barely saw you move. The only reason you missed was because you stopped laughing right before that and I was already cautious."
Harry snorted, shaking his head in amazement.
"Sometimes there is just no pleasing you," he informed him. "I'm an adult. I have more experience than you, so it's not surprising that my movements are faster."
"But you have never been this fast when we duelled."
"Because I was teaching you then. Those weren't real duels. This time, I thought I was facing a real threat."
When Tom's mouth dropped open in indignation, Harry swallowed a regretful groan. This was such a wrong thing to say.
"Those weren't real duels!" Tom repeated, his voice going high-pitched. "But you said you stopped indulging me and letting me win years ago!"
"I did! But you didn't expect me to really fight you, did you? I'd never cast a dangerous spell on you unless I was sure you could repel it."
"Stop contradicting yourself, you either let me win or you don't!"
This was hopeless. This was exactly why Harry didn't want Tom to know about his chambers.
"From what I recall, you've never tried to break my legs with that spell of yours as well," he noted. "So you were holding back too."
This, at least, gave Tom pause, but it didn't last long.
"I want a real duel with you," he demanded haughtily, his eyes flashing in determination. "Without any of us holding back."
"Why do you think?" Harry couldn't believe he had to explain it. No, he couldn't believe Tom even bothered to delude himself into thinking they could ever truly strike at each other in the first place. "One of us will end up hurt, and the other one will be feeling guilty."
"Guilty?" Tom spat this word with such revulsion that a warning bell rang in Harry's mind, marking the approach to a dangerous territory. "I never feel guilty. Guilt is a tool of control over the weak-minded people who aren't certain about the decisions they make. I am."
"Is that so?" the remaining bits of mirth slithered away, Tom's words cutting the last string that held them in. "Fine. Let's do it right now. Throw the darkest curses you can think of at me."
Tom's contemptuous certainty wavered, extinguishing some of his aggression.
"And what about you?" he asked warily.
"I'm a weak-minded person controlled by guilt," Harry told him coldly, raising his wand. "I'm not willing to risk your safety just because you want to prove your superiority over me. I will limit myself to the defensive spells only. Feel free to do your worst."
More hardness melted out of Tom's eyes, replaced by hesitancy. He looked at Harry's wand, then at his own, and then his shoulders slumped slightly.
"No," he muttered, his voice so resigned that Harry's heart jumped in sympathy. "I can't."
"I know you can't," Harry hid his wand back in his robes. "I'm surprised you didn't know it yourself." Tom, the boy who had panic attacks the moment he thought Harry was in danger. Who was ready to attack Rivers right in the Great Hall for doing something as harmless as pointing his finger at Harry's chest. And he thought he could cast something even remotely dangerous on him?
"But do you think you would be able to defeat me?" Tom pressed, the lines of his mouth setting in an unhappy grimace, and Harry rolled his eyes in frustration.
'I already did,' he wanted to say. 'More than once. And look how it ended.'
"Why do you even want to defeat me?" he asked instead. "What would that prove?"
Tom said nothing, his expression growing tighter, like he didn't know the answer but craved to get it.
"You have more magical potency than I do," Harry said finally. "I have more experience. You'd be fighting dirty, I cannot imagine truly cursing you even in a hypothetical scenario, not even if my life depended on it. So yes, I think you would defeat me."
"You still mean you would let me defeat you," Tom shook his head. "You are hopeless. I've never seen people so incapable of imagining a hypothetical situation."
Harry planned to reply, but a sudden banging on the door stopped words from emerging. Frowning, he turned around. Who could his visitor be? Unless of course…
"Open the door," Rivers' breathy voice commanded. "I know you are there."
Cursing, Harry pinched the bridge of his nose.
This couldn't be happening. Why did Rivers choose to confront him today of all days, when Tom was present? Also, why was Tom even present? They still had to discuss the whole breaking in thing.
A cloud of dark volatile energy behind made Harry's attention snap back to Tom. He was staring at the door, his gaze intent and unfathomable, his jaw clenched so hard that it looked like every muscle on his face vibrated with tension.
"Tom," Harry hissed, "I need you to be quiet now. He can't know you are here."
Tom's hands curled into fists.
"He's disrespectful to you," he hissed back. "How often does he come barging in like this?"
"This is the first time. And if you can't keep quiet by yourself, I'll just use Silencio."
Seeing how Tom's eyes widened in outrage, Harry chocked back a laugh. The next moment, the banging restarted, so he quickly grabbed Tom by his wrist, dragged him towards the door, and pushed him against the wall next to it, pressing a warning hand to his chest.
"Not a word," he said again. "Don't say anything, don't move, don't try to curse him. If you do, I'll put so many protective charms on my door that you'll never be able to break in again."
Tom didn't look impressed by the threat, but there was no time to think of something more creative. With the last warning glance at him, Harry finally opened the door, taking in Rivers' flushed face.
"What do you want?" he asked directly. "I've been giving you time to adjust to my presence since you seem to have some big problems with me, but this is going too far. I'm not obligated to put up with your stalking."
Rivers flushed even more, glaring at him.
"This school is everything to me," he spat. "As are its teachers and students. I won't allow you to sabotage it."
"How am I sabotaging it, exactly?"
"I know what you are!" Rivers raised his finger again, poking Harry in his shoulder. Tom's face twisted in a vicious snarl, and Harry increased the pressure, pushing him further into the wall to prevent him from jumping forward.
"If you promise to leave me alone afterward, I'll indulge you," he told Rivers tiredly. "What am I?"
There was an outright hatred in the man's eyes as he stared at him.
"A necromancer," he uttered in disgust. "You disturb the dead and speak to them. You bring them back to life. You did it so many times that you no longer feel like a breathing, living person."
Harry's heart jerked sharply before starting to hammer like a drum, pushing the increasing volumes of panic through his blood. Rivers' conclusion was entirely wrong, laughably so, but the assumptions themselves… there was a degree of truth in them. A dangerous truth that should never become revealed.
Tom guffawed, not even trying to disguise the sound, and Rivers recoiled as if he'd been struck, opening and closing his mouth like a fish. He probably thought it was one of Harry's dead bodies laughing because the terror in his eyes was wild and genuine.
"You are a monster," he whispered, his voice wavering. "I don't care if no one believes me. I'll take this matter into my own hands, I can promise you that."
"Yes, fine, whatever," Harry slammed the door shut, finally releasing Tom and glaring at him. "You couldn't keep silent for even one minute!"
"Your threat wasn't very intimidating," Tom shrugged, still grinning. "I'm sure I can break through your protective spells even if you use them. I already found your rooms and got inside by myself."
"You are a brat," Harry poked him in the ribs with a scoff. "You've just made my life harder. He'll think I'm hiding the living corpses in my rooms or something even worse."
"He already thinks you are a necromancer, what could be worse than that?" Tom asked seriously before doubling over with laughter. The sound was so pure and happy that Harry began to smile against his will, feeling how small curls of warmth started to unfold in his chest, chasing away the chill brought by Rivers' accusations.
"A necromancer!" Tom repeated, still folded in half. "You! Speaking with the dead, as if you could ever wield such power. That man is crazy!"
Offended, Harry dug his fingers into Tom's ribs again, tickling him mercilessly.
"For your information, I speak with the dead every day," he informed him as he struggled to subdue Tom's squirming.
"Liar," Tom gasped, breathless with laughter, trying to bat his hands away.
"I do," Harry insisted, twisting his fingers even more and smirking when Tom let out an undignified yelp. "If you haven't noticed, Hogwarts is full of talking portraits, and most people on them are long dead."
Tom blinked before laughing even harder, and this time, Harry couldn't resist the temptation. He laughed too, even though the mirthful sounds quickly turned into gasps when Tom used his weakening hold to topple him to the floor, pushing his own fingers between his ribs.
"Give up and give me my reward!" he announced smugly, dodging the flights of Harry's protesting hands. "I've completed your task: maybe I didn't sneak up on you properly, but I took you aback. You said my reaction was quick, so you were impressed. This was the condition."
"Fine, I'll tell you where my rooms are. This was the reward," Harry mocked him. In response, Tom resumed his tickling efforts, and when Harry jerked forward to push him over, he was startled to realize that he couldn't.
Tom had gotten strong. Wiggling out of his grasp was nearly impossible now without applying his full physical strength, and Harry wasn't at the stage of doing that yet. So he tried to bite Tom's arm, and when Tom loosened his hold with a distressed sound — worried about his expensive clothes, no doubt — Harry managed to wrap his hands around his shoulders and push him back at last.
Minutes later, they were lying on the floor next to each other, panting with the remnants of laughter, too exhausted to keep their battle going. At some point, Tom propped his head on his hand, watching him with a look that Harry couldn't read.
"Deluded as Rivers might be, he still threatened you," he uttered, more gravely this time. "I don't like it."
"There is nothing I can do about his threats," he said. "No one believes what he says anyway, so there is no point in worrying about it."
For a while, Tom was silent.
"What if there was a way to do something about his threats?" he murmured finally, leaning closer to Harry and brushing his finger against his cheek. "Would you take it?"
Tom lowered his head, nuzzling into his temple and then pressing his lips to his ear.
"I could kill him for you," he whispered, his breathing hot, but his words chilling. "I could make it so he'd never be found. He would never bother you again."
At first, Harry's mind blanked out, trying to make sense of what he'd heard. When the impact of what Tom had just said finally hit him, coldness shot down his spine, quickly turning his blood into ice. Something bitter clogged his throat — a betrayed sense of shock that he hadn't felt in months, that was supposed to stay in the past indefinitely.
Taking a deep, shaking breath, Harry pulled away, putting more distance between him and Tom. His voice came out unsteady when he asked, "Have I ever given you an impression that you could joke about such things with me?"
Tom tilted his head, following his every movement.
"It's not a joke," he said neutrally. "You implied that Rivers makes your life harder. I'm offering to make it easy again."
"By killing him?" Harry refused to believe this. Not after the summer they had, not after all their conversations. "And you thought there might be even the slightest chance of me agreeing to this?"
"If Rivers is a problem, then yes."
"Problems aren't solved with murder!" Realising he was dangerously close to shouting, Harry jumped to his feet and began to pace, trying to dispel the suffocating cloud of distress that was dimming his senses.
He thought they'd made progress. He believed it. Everything couldn't fall apart this quickly — not now, not here, not ever.
"I don't understand why you are angry with me," Tom bit out, his own voice getting darker. "I haven't even done anything. You wanted me to talk to you about these things, so I'm trying. If you react like this every time—"
"It's different! I told you that you have to come to me if you are feeling tempted to act in a way you know is unacceptable, not to offer me to participate in murder as if it's some… some trivial topic of conversation!"
"But it's not for me this time, it's for you!" Tom threw his hands up, anger distorting his features, and only now did Harry realise that he was becoming truly upset. It wasn't just Tom testing his limits or forgetting everything they had been discussing over summer — he looked genuinely frustrated.
"Murder is murder," Harry spoke more calmly. "You know that I don't see it as a solution to anything. It doesn't matter whether it's for you or for me. It's unacceptable. No exceptions — not unless someone is in real danger."
"But it's for you," Tom repeated stubbornly. "Rivers upset you and he will do it again. I want to take care of you."
Even though dismay was still burning small poisonous holes through him, Harry forced himself to stand straight, waiting for his breathing to even out. Then he approached Tom and put his hands on his shoulders, looking at him intently.
"I appreciate it," he forced out. "I do. But you can't take care of me with this. Never with this."
Tom clenched his teeth, still angry, and Harry gave his shoulders a gentle squeeze.
"You know me," he said, trying to sound lighter. "You know I would never support murder, even if your intentions are… noble."
"Well, I didn't know you'd get equally angry," Tom grumbled, but some tension finally left his body. With a resigned exhale, he stepped towards Harry and placed his head on his shoulder, wrapping his hands around his waist. "Don't worry," he uttered. "I'll think of something else."
"There is no need to. Do I have to remind you again that I'm an adult? I can deal with Rivers. If he bothers me too much, I'll use a restraining spell that won't let him get close to me."
"Really?" Tom jerked away, his eyes lighting up with avid interest. "There is a spell like this?"
"Yes. Would you like me to teach you?" As an Auror, Harry had had to use it several times on wizards who failed to understand that people didn't want to be stalked. It was a tricky but useful spell, and Harry still remembered how to cast it… more or less.
"Of course," Tom pressed closer to him again, and Harry indulged himself by burying his hands in his hair, brushing through it soothingly.
The disaster seemed to be averted, but he would still watch Tom and Rivers for a while.
Just in case.
Days turned into weeks, weeks grew into months, and everything stayed the same. Rivers was still a nuisance, but he was alive and well, and gradually, Harry allowed himself to relax.
Tom had listened to him. He was capable of keeping his word, so Harry was going to learn to trust him again.
Not that it was easy in any way, considering how possessive Tom could be of him and the consequences it could potentially have. Harry liked teaching — it felt natural, and seeing so many excited faces, sensing such eagerness and genuine interest in his lessons filled him with enthusiasm that he had almost forgotten. One-on-one lessons couldn't compare to this, couldn't bring the same powerful energy that the entire class of students emanated. But while Tom showed him absolute respect, he very obviously couldn't handle the idea of having to share his attention with others.
Every time Harry ignored him in favour of someone else, Tom looked slighted. Every time Harry awarded points to non-Slytherins, Tom glowered. If Harry ever praised another student with something longer than three words, Tom's anger and resentment gained an almost physical shape, ready to collapse on the head of his fortunate classmate and bury them under the debris.
Notably, most Slytherins from Tom's year were quiet and rarely spoke out, so Tom's glares and biting fury were almost exclusively reserved for Gryffindors. Harry wondered about it sometimes. He realised that the status of a Slytherin heir brought Tom an unfair advantage, but he doubted Tom abused this power to intimidate his housemates into something as trivial as not being active on Harry's lessons. Something was happening, yes, but it looked more like all these Slytherins simply understood Tom's wishes and willingly respected them.
Dumbledore would disagree with him for sure, but Harry doubted Voldemort had only ever used manipulation or intimidation to make others join him, and he could clearly see this wasn't the case with Tom. Because despite his behaviour during Defence lessons, at all other times, he was perfect.
He was spending time with the representatives of all Houses, discussing something and sometimes even tutoring them. He was attentive to those younger than him and respectful to older students. Sure, his sense of superiority shone through even then, but Harry was certain that for everyone else, it came across as simple unwavering confidence. Tom was friendly but he didn't let the majority of people close, so Harry was among the few, if not the only one, who could understand the nuances in his behaviour.
Tom did have several friends, but even after four months of teaching, Harry couldn't say he knew much about them. They formed a united front around Tom at all times, but Harry barely had a chance to observe their interactions. Whenever they crossed paths, Tom's attention snapped to him, and he almost never even talked to his friends until Harry left. If he had to guess, though, he'd say that Lestrange and Avery were a bit overeager in their focus on Tom; Mulciber didn't stand out in any way, and Black… Harry's heart kept skipping beats at first, struck at his similarities with Sirius, but it quickly became obvious that other than physical appearance, they were nothing alike. This Black was quiet where Sirius had been loud, thoughtful where Sirius was spontaneous, so very soon, seeing him stopped unsettling Harry this much, and the associations shattered.
Not before Tom noticed it, of course. His sudden chill towards his own friend was palpable even to someone as uninvolved in their relationship as Harry. It lasted for a few weeks, and to Harry's reluctant amusement, Black started shooting him half-masked glares, as if blaming him for the distance between him and Tom. Fortunately, it ended another week later, when Harry made it a point to ignore Black, so soon, Tom let him back into his good graces.
There were echoes of occasional prejudice in the corridors and during lessons: some purebloods still looked down on Muggle-borns; some Slytherins sneered at Gryffindors and vice versa, and Hufflepuffs were dismissed by quite a number of other students. Still, Harry thought the situation was surprisingly better in comparison to how things had been during his time. The general level of hostility felt lower, and even the exchanged insults seemed lazy rather than genuinely heated.
Had it always been like this? Or was Tom's changed life making a difference?
Harry knew which option he preferred, and he hoped for it with fervency that was almost overwhelming in its desperate intensity. The desire to be proud of someone wasn't something he had a big experience with, but when it came to Tom, he found himself undergoing a whole new range of bewildering and unfamiliar feelings.
He loved hearing about how Tom excelled in every subject he was taking. He loved how so many people seemed awed by him. He loved thinking that his efforts were worth something, and the idea of Tom bringing such a positive change filled him with reckless, profound giddiness. So when Tom told him that he wanted them to go home for Christmas, Harry answered "yes" with a blinding, foolish grin, and his heart felt almost uncomfortably warm when Tom smiled back at him, looking like nothing could be more important than this moment.
Harry couldn't help but agree.
They began Christmas preparations right away. This year, their tree was incredibly tall, and it was impossible to decorate it without the floating spells. But while Tom was always passionate about magic, as fascinated by every display of it as he had been all those years ago, now he insisted on doing everything the Muggle way for some reason. And he was vehemently against using chairs or anything else for elevation.
"Okay," Harry said, "so how do you suggest we get to the top? Do you want me to hold you up so you could reach it? I'm afraid you've gotten a bit too heavy for that."
"What?" Tom frowned, looking almost comically dismayed. "Are you saying I'm fat?"
Of course this was what Tom had gotten from it. Harry snorted with laughter, shaking his head.
"No," he uttered, amused. "I'm saying you are… tall. Yes. Very tall."
Tom narrowed his eyes, studying him with suspicion.
"You are!" he concluded finally, so offended that Harry broke into uncontrollable laughter again. "You are saying I'm fat!"
"I'm really not," Harry reached to touch him but Tom slapped his hand away, glowering. "My God, you are impossible sometimes. No, you aren't fat, and I wouldn't care if you were. But you are still heavy and tall enough, so I'm not going to be walking around the tree with you on my shoulders. If that was your plan…"
"Fine," Tom raised his chin, a flawless sculpture of condescension. "I'll be holding you, then. Since you aren't tall or heavy enough."
Harry pondered over whether there was an insult there, but then discarded these thoughts and shrugged. If Tom convinced himself of some crazy idea, he knew from experience that nothing could be done to change that — worst-case scenario, he was going to get dropped on the floor. Nothing he wouldn't survive.
But what he had perceived as Tom's whimsy turned into something much sweeter and unexpectedly moving. True, it started a little ridiculously — Harry couldn't stop his embarrassed laughter and instead of putting the toys on the higher branches, he kept waving his arms aimlessly, much to Tom's flustered annoyance. But then the feeling of almost childish excitement took its roots, chasing away the awkwardness and filling every simple action with magic — not the usual one, but the unique and more complex kind of it. Harry was quickly becoming lost in these moments, putting each toy on the branch with greatest care, following Tom's suggestions and admiring his own work, feeling warm and exhilarated and absurdly happy.
When the final toy took its place on the very top, Harry just looked at it, pleased in a way he hadn't felt in a while. Absent-mindedly, he reached towards it again to adjust it a bit. Tom made an alarmed noise and stumbled, and before Harry understood it, they both crashed to the floor. Thankfully, the impact was more startling than painful, but Tom still scowled at him, managing to look fearsome even as he was sprawled across the carpet.
"You just had to do that," he complained. "At least you didn't pull the tree down with you. I wouldn't help you to decorate it again!"
Smiling, Harry bent his head and dropped a kiss on Tom's brow.
"Sorry," he said dutifully. He heard how Tom's breath caught before coming out in a shaky exhale. His eyes lost their sharp focus, and Harry raised an eyebrow, surprised but pleased. His methods of ridding Tom of his annoyance seemed to be getting swifter and swifter.
"Come on," Harry finally stood up, offering Tom a hand. "Let's go make hot chocolate."
Tom took his hand, still looking flushed and a little dazed, and Harry rolled his eyes.
"You didn't fall all that hard, stop trying to make me feel guilty."
Tom merely gazed at him, just as wordlessly.
For Tom's birthday, Harry decided to make a non-alcoholic whiskey cake. The recipe he had in mind seemed intriguing enough to make him want to try it, although Tom was sceptical.
"What's the point of making a whiskey cake when it has no real whiskey?" he wondered. "And why whiskey in the first place, why not a, I don't know, a butterbeer cake? You love that sickening drink."
"I do, but as you just confirmed, you consider it sickening," Harry pointed out. "Whiskey is a harsher drink, I thought you'd like it more."
"But it's not even real whiskey!"
Harry had nothing to say here, so he just shrugged sheepishly, unable to stop himself from grinning when Tom gave him an exasperated but a very fond look.
As he was working on the cake, Tom was sitting at the table, alternating between watching him and reading a book. It looked vaguely familiar, but Harry couldn't see its title from the distance.
"What are you reading?" he asked finally. "You seem to be doing it an awful lot lately."
Tom looked up, a glimmer of a strange smile on his lips.
"I do," he said. "There is a project I'm interested in completing, but as of yet, I don't have sufficient knowledge to plan everything. I hope to find an answer in these books."
"What is it about?" Harry turned back to the stove, checking whether the chocolate was melting.
"It's going to be a surprise, so I'm not telling you."
This made him wary, so Harry faced Tom again, briefly forgetting about the chocolate.
"A surprise that needs you to read so much to complete it? I'm not sure I like it."
"You will," Tom assured him before focusing on the book again. It was very tempting to snatch it from his hands and look at its title, to check what chapter Tom was reading, but after the brief inner struggle, Harry reluctantly discarded this idea.
He wanted to trust Tom. If he said Harry was going to like it, then he wanted to believe it was really so.
Though maybe he'd still take a quick look when Tom was sleeping.
The cake turned out to be delicious, and Tom liked it so much that he even requested the second helping. Harry conjured a glowing green '15', and Tom kept trying to brush his fingers against it, smiling softly when it flared under his touch. They had radio on for music, and the lights from their Christmas tree reached even the kitchen where they were sitting, filling it with multi-coloured shine.
At some point, Tom went quiet, staring at his empty plate and throwing occasional hesitant looks at him. Harry patiently waited for him to voice whatever was bothering him, but when it finally happened, it was the last thing he'd been expecting to hear.
"Dance with me?" Tom said, or rather asked. It sounded like he'd intended to put more force into his words but lost his confidence along the way, so it came out fragile and unsure.
"All right," Harry replied slowly. It wasn't that strange of a demand, so he couldn't imagine why Tom felt so awkward asking.
A steady wave of redness flooded Tom's cheeks. He stood up a little too quickly and eagerly, but then faltered again, fidgeting.
He had never been this nervous about anything before, not from what Harry could remember.
Amused and taken aback, he walked towards Tom himself, taking his hands and leading him away from the table. Tom clang to him like a lifeline, still flushed and hesitant, and Harry twirled him around playfully, again and again, hoping to ease some of his tension.
When Tom laughed in delight, he knew it worked. The next time Harry pulled him close, Tom took the lead, wrapping one hand around his shoulders and pushing them even closer, forcing Harry to move at his pace. As he turned them around, his grip hardened. His lips parted, and he stared at Harry in such transfixed way, as if he'd never seen him before.
Harry wasn't sure what to make of it. He didn't think he'd ever seen Tom look at him like this — or anyone look at him like this, if he were honest. This wasn't something he recognised within himself either, not before, at least, so he couldn't begin to guess what was going through Tom's mind.
Time seemed to slow. Tom's hold was warm and firm now, and Harry held onto him just as tightly, letting the simple happiness of the moment overtake him. Being close to Tom never felt like something he could take for granted, something he could stop consciously craving. It was like learning he had magic for the first time; it was like seeing a reflection of his parents, like feeling accepted and understood by people who mattered.
Tom was his world. It wasn't a new revelation, but it still tore through his mind in a shocking flash, exposing love so fierce that his body shook with it, unable to cope with its crushing, overwhelming force. Harry was the one to cling to Tom this time, trying to find a balance and prevent himself from suffocating him in an embrace he suddenly wanted.
To reach a compromise with himself, Harry chose to lean against Tom more, pressing his head into Tom's shoulder. Tom adjusted to this immediately, changing his grip to a softer one and covering Harry's head with his.
The music was there, it had to be, but Harry had no idea what song was playing. At some point, he gazed at the table and flinched, seeing Apophis there.
"Tom," he muttered. "Why is your demon bird staring at us?"
Tom didn't answer right away, probably as lost in their semblance of a dance as Harry was.
"Still not a demon bird," he uttered finally, with voice rough. "Do you hate all birds or is Apophis an exception?"
"I don't hate all birds," Harry pulled back, though he still didn't let go of Tom's hand. "I love them — I had an owl before. There were times when she was my only companion. I might not think of her every day now, but she's always with me. A memory that won't fade."
"You never told me before," Tom frowned, rubbing several soothing touches into Harry's palm with his fingers. "Would you like to buy another owl, then? I suppose I could get you one."
"No," Harry sighed, leaning closer again. Sometimes Tom truly didn't understand the simplest things. "It doesn't work like that. Even if I get a thousand new owls, they won't replace Hedwig."
"Hedwig?" Tom repeated. "As in Saint Hedwig, the patron of the poor and the orphans? Did you name your owl after a Muggle?"
"Actually, I saw the name in A History of Magic. I don't really remember whom it belonged to at this point. But if it was a patron of orphans, then I suppose it's fitting. Considering I was an orphan and all that."
Even without looking, Harry could feel Tom frowning. His mood darkened, and they spent the next several minutes in brooding silence, not really dancing but merely moving slowly. Apophis kept staring.
"I wouldn't want another owl anyway," Harry remarked, hoping to lighten the atmosphere and to bring back the magical feeling they'd been enjoying before. "A dragon, on the other hand…"
Tom was the one to jerk his head back in surprise this time.
"A dragon?" he asked incredulously. The frown faded from his face as if it had never been there at all. "Why would you want a dragon for a pet?"
"One of my friends got a dragon's egg once," Harry smiled, a weak echo of nostalgia and wistfulness tugging at his heart. He had already formed a close relationship with this time's younger version of Hagrid, but this boy and his Hagrid were still worlds apart. "It was a little monster, though it had its moments. I didn't have a good relationship with dragons — magical creatures never interested me much. Then, when I was fourteen, I had to fight a dragon for a prize. It was a stupid tournament and of course, my opinion didn't improve after the challenge ended. I'm still surprised I survived it in one piece."
"Are you making this up?" Tom stopped moving altogether, eyeing him with so much scepticism, it would have been insulting if Harry wasn't feeling so happy.
"No, I'm not," he smirked.
"Do you really expect me to believe you fought a dragon when you were fourteen? This is absurd!"
"Trust me, I wasn't happy about it myself. But it's a long story."
"But you couldn't have defeated a dragon!" Tom ran his fingers through his hair in agitation, his eyes wide and stunned. "They are mostly invincible — I don't think even I would be able to handle it. I suppose I'd go for the eyes, they are probably the weakest place on their body, but I'm still not sure I would have succeeded. What did you do? And who let you do this — you could have died!"
"I didn't have the most normal childhood," Harry agreed, trying to pull Tom back to him. When he resisted, Harry jerked him forward, ignoring his indignant gasp. "Calm down," he urged. "It's in the past. And I succeeded mostly out of pure luck. I simply used my Quidditch skills, and to be honest, I wasn't even the one to come up with this plan. So don't worry, you would have still beat me in every aspect that counted. Well, almost in every aspect."
"I'm not worried about that!" Tom scoffed. Harry's eyebrows arched. "Not entirely," he amended. "But when you say things like that... I don't know anything about your past, do I? You are hiding parts of yourself from me. And every time you reveal one of the pieces, it turns out you should be dead at least a dozen times over by now!"
"But I'm not," Harry pressed his lips to Tom's forehead soothingly. "I'm here, with you, and I always will be."
Tom calmed almost instantly, closing his eyes and taking a slow breath. Still, a while had passed before he spoke again.
"So, dragons," he said more neutrally. "If you had a bad experience with them, why would you want one as a pet?"
"I was joking mostly," Harry admitted, lacing their fingers together. "But dragons are still special and I grew to love and appreciate them over the years. Ron's brother spent his entire life working with them. I took a trip with him once and I got to know them from an entirely new side. They are very intelligent, very prickly and often violent, but they are loyal to those they love and they are kind towards those they trust. Actually, now that I think about it, they remind me of you."
Tom blinked, surprise and pleasure turning his features softer.
"I remind you of dragons?"
"You do," Harry smiled at him. "In many ways. You can be fierce and intimidating, but when you let someone into your heart, it's for good. You are smart and resourceful, and viciously protective. So yes. Perfect likeness."
Tom hummed, wrapping both of his hands around Harry's back, spinning him around unhurriedly.
"I like it," he said after a few moments, his voice quiet and thoughtful. "I like it a lot."
Harry nuzzled his hair in response, following his movements lazily.
"And I liked today," Tom blurted out suddenly. "I liked your gift, I liked your stupid illogical cake, and I liked dancing with you. This was my best birthday."
"Really?" In his surprise, Harry breathed in too much air, and some of Tom's hair got into his mouth, making him splutter in an attempt to spit it back out. Tom laughed at this, loudly and unabashedly, and when their eyes met again, Tom's were shining.
"Yes," he said breathlessly, and this single word was filled with such devotion that Harry's heart skipped a beat, too caught up in the blissful sensation of warmth, love, and gratitude. "Yes," Tom repeated. "It's undoubtedly the best birthday I've ever had."
Harry couldn't have asked for more.
Four days before they had to go back to Hogwarts, a part of Liverpool had been bombed. The damage wasn't extensive, but considering the abundance of attacks this area had already gone through, the number of people needing assistance remained unknown. And most surprisingly, Harry hadn't learned about it himself, too focused on finishing drafting his lesson plans. No, the information came from Tom, who had come to his room with a grave expression and offered to apparate there and help.
'You want to help Muggles?' Harry nearly exclaimed, but he stopped himself at the last moment.
Tom didn't care about helping, he knew that. They had already had this discussion — Tom went with him because he understood how much Harry appreciated it. But to actually initiate their trip, to share the news and insist that they go? This wasn't something Harry had expected, not at this point. This was way beyond his boldest hopes.
"All right," he said easily, trying to keep his tone normal and not to betray the shock coursing through him. "Thank you for telling me about this. We'll go right away."
It didn't matter what Tom's reasons were. Whether he wanted to please him, to prove something, to see Liverpool — he offered to go, and for Harry, it was everything.
They arrived in the middle of destruction. It was hard to say whether they had come too late or too early — the street seemed entirely deserted, with silent wrecks of the houses being the only reminder of what had occurred. The sky was grim, and even though it was morning, it felt like twilight was fast approaching.
"I think we'll be able to repair some of it," Harry said, examining the broken pieces of a green wall that were still clinging to each other. "But we should focus on finding people first. I don't know if someone has already done a rescue mission or if they just ran without looking for survivors."
Only the wind answered him, tearing through the wreckage with a hollow sound. Harry turned towards Tom and caught his affirmative nod. But despite the agreement, it didn't look like Tom was comfortable or even accepting of the necessity to spend any time here. His face was pale and tense, and he kept throwing wary glances at the sky, clenching his wand so tightly that his knuckles went white.
He was scared to be here. It was so painfully obvious that Harry's first instinct was to immediately take them back home, to never bring Tom to places like this. But now that he'd seen the actual damage, he couldn't stay away, and he knew Tom would never let him go alone.
"We won't stay long here, okay?" Harry asked quietly. "It's very likely that these are just empty buildings and that all people have already been evacuated."
Tom looked briefly startled by his words before quickly composing himself.
"I don't mind," he assured him calmly. It was almost convincing — it would have been if Tom's paleness and tension didn't betray his anxiety. "I offered to come here myself, after all. I'll help you with the people we find."
"It means a lot to me," Harry replied. But somehow, this didn't feel enough, not this time, so he added, "And I'm proud of you for offering."
Tom's paleness slowly shifted into a completely unexpected blush. It looked so out of place that Harry just squinted in his confusion, wondering what it could possibly mean. This wasn't the first time he said he was proud of Tom, was it? So what made it different?
Tom dropped his gaze, clearing his throat awkwardly.
"I'll start with this house," he muttered, nodding jerkily at one of the ruins. "Stay close to me, though."
Harry rolled his eyes good-naturedly but did as Tom asked.
They were working silently side by side for a while, Tom using Harry's wand as subtly as possible, Harry using his the Muggle tools he'd brought. At some point, he stumbled upon someone's pale hand, and his mood plummeted.
He caught Tom's attention, and they gently dug out a corpse, laying it on the ground. It was a man with a brown scarf on his neck, and Harry bit his lip as his breathing tumbled into something painful and irregular, the terrible and familiar guilt crashing into him, biting into everything it could touch.
It wasn't his fault, none of it. But Muggles or wizards, war was war, and every war now looked like his first one to him. The new faces easily turned into Fred's and George's, Lupin's and Tonks', even Snape's — cold and still in death, silent and unreachable.
With another deep inhale, Harry nodded at Tom, indicating he was fine and that they could continue.
They didn't find anyone else, so maybe someone had already searched the ruins and just did it inattentively. Finally, after another half an hour, Harry straightened, wiping the sweat from his forehead. He was wondering whether he should leave the body here or take it to some other place when Tom called him, "Harry?"
He sounded strange, and Harry immediately made a few steps towards him, alarmed.
Tom wavered for a moment, heavy reluctance written on his face, but then determination replaced it. He pointed at one of the piles he'd been digging through.
"There is an infant here," he said. "It's making noise, so I assume it's alive."
Harry hurried closer, peering over Tom's shoulder.
There really was a small child lying under the ruins. It couldn't be older than a few months, and its mouth kept opening in a struggle to cry or scream.
For a moment, Harry just stared, feeling entirely lost. He hardly knew what to do with the body, where was he supposed to take a child? It needed urgent care, and he doubted that any orphanage would agree to accept such responsibility.
"We'll take him back with us," he decided. "We'll use potions to treat him. I'll try to find out if he has any living relatives, and if not, we'll find some foster family for him."
Tom grimaced, throwing an unreadable look at the child. Then he looked at Harry again and clenched his jaw.
"Fine," he said curtly. "Tell me what I should do."
The child was a boy, and by the end of the day, Harry was completely enamoured with him. He reminded him of Teddy, of those first years they shared, and for the first time, the tinge of sadness was gone from his memories.
He might never be involved in Teddy's upbringing again, but he'd make sure he still had his parents. Lupin and Tonks would cherish him, just as the family he'd find for this boy would cherish him. These children would never be affected by any war again.
Tom was mostly silent, although he obediently fetched the things Harry needed and helped him to prepare the potions. His lack of expression was troubling, though, and Harry couldn't escape an unpleasant queasy feeling boiling in the pit of his stomach.
He understood the reason for Tom's silence. How could he not, after everything that happened?
"We won't keep him," he said, tilting Tom's head up by his chin and staring him in the eye, knowing Tom would be able to read his sincerity. "You and I are going back to Hogwarts in four days. By that time, the child will be gone. I promise."
Tom stared at him, still expressionless, and the blankness of his stare sent shivers up Harry's spine.
He knew this look. He'd seen it only several times on Tom, but it never ended well.
"Four days," he repeated. "Just four days. Do you understand? Nothing beyond that."
"Yes," Tom said, but his words came out wooden and emotionless. "I understand. Four days."
He didn't sound like he understood. And Harry found it more terrifying than the worst of Tom's letters.
Were four days really too much to ask? This was just an infant. An infant they both had saved. How could Tom perceive it as threat in any way? What more could he possibly say to convince him?
Harry transformed a chair into a crib and put it into his room. Other than that, he forced himself to approach the boy only when necessary, drowning every longing impulse to hold or play with him before it could fully emerge. He dragged Tom into the room, too, and they spent several hours reading together. By the end of them, Tom began to smile again, and a weak hope lit up somewhere in Harry's chest, letting him breathe easier.
"I have to feed the child," he said carefully. "Would you like to watch or maybe you want to do it yourself?"
Perhaps if Tom felt even more involved, if he saw there was nothing to be threatened by… It was a slim chance, but maybe it could stall the tension for the next several days.
Tom's smile froze before fading, dragging the corners of his lips down with it. The blank look returned, but he still said, "I'll feed it myself."
Harry beamed before leaning forward and planting a sloppy kiss on his cheekbone.
"Great," he said. "Let's find that blend again, I forgot where I put it."
"How you fail to remember you have magic escapes me," Tom remarked, but the words that had to be teasing were filled with nothingness. As if he was simply going through motions without feeling any genuine link with them.
Harry forced himself to smile, even though uneasiness began to spread through him again, turning his insides to ice.
He watched Tom feed the boy with intensity that bordered on obsessiveness. Maybe it was unfair, but he felt it was better than taking any risks, no matter how small.
Tom's actions were smooth and careful, and if Harry had been unable to see his face, he might have called them caring. As it was, he saw the emptiness and the darkness, and when the child jerked back from the bottle, smacking his lips and wrinkling his nose in a display of vulnerable innocence, Tom's gaze grew colder.
No, he didn't feel any more involved, it was palpable. And while Harry's heart melted at the sight of such helplessness, Tom's only appeared to harden.
But it didn't matter. It didn't. Tom was trying, really trying this time, and Harry would appreciate his efforts without requiring something he was incapable of giving, even if he couldn't understand how someone this small and fragile could leave anyone unmoved.
"Well done," he praised when Tom removed the bottle and hid his hands behind his back, staring at him vacantly. "I'll start looking for someone to take him in tomorrow morning. Would you like to watch a film?"
Normally, Tom would immediately scold him, commencing a long rant about how terrible the majority of modern films were, but now he just shrugged slightly.
"All right," he said.
Harry had purposefully selected the most hilarious film he could find, and he spent the following two hours wrapped around Tom, hoping, praying, that it was enough. That whatever doubts and fears plagued Tom's mind, his devotion would be able to dispel them.
They slept in one bed this night, and Harry felt relieved: this way, he could watch both Tom and the baby while also proving that accepting a temporarily responsibility for someone else didn't mean that Tom would start getting less of his attention. He hoped Tom could see it.
He was fifteen. How could he not?
The morning didn't bring him any peace of mind. Tom remained detached, and whenever Harry interacted with the child, his gaze sharpened, glistening dangerously.
This complicated the search for the boy's family. To find anyone, Harry had to go outside, and he couldn't possibly leave Tom in charge, not when he behaved like this. It was unbelievable that this problem even existed, but it did, and this time, he wasn't going to willingly close his eyes to it.
In the end, he decided to take Tom with him and leave the child by himself. It wasn't safe, but a quieter part of his mind suggested that it was safer than asking Tom to stay behind.
Unfortunately, their trip was fruitless. The boy's family was dead, and none of the people Harry had built connections with expressed any willingness to adopt him. When they got back home, the child was wailing loudly, so Harry rushed upstairs, grabbing him from the crib and muttering comforting sweetness, rocking him from side to side. The boy calmed down eventually, blinking at him sleepily, and Harry smiled, unable to help himself.
At that very moment, a sudden chill entered the room, freezing everything on its way forward. Harry stilled.
He knew where it was coming from, but he didn't want to look to make sure. He didn't want to turn suspicions into reality. Yet the iciness was getting too biting to ignore it, so he did look, and his heart sank.
Tom was standing at the threshold, measuring him with an intense stare. His lips were pressed into one thin line, and his eyes were burning with rage so profound, Harry was surprised it didn't spill over, drowning them all in its poison.
Frustration flared up then, nearly bursting from him, filling him with a sudden need to counter Tom's iciness, to scream at him and ask if he understood how utterly crazy he was acting. Why did he have to always be the one understanding everything? Why did he have to cater to Tom's every need, to tiptoe around him in the fear of pushing him towards darkness?
Maybe Tom read something on his face because his fury suddenly twisted into hurt, and just like that, Harry's anger dimmed. His stomach was still roiling from the unfairness, from the injustice of it, but the resentment began to lose its sharp edge.
He knew why he was putting up with it. Of course he did. He loved Tom and he'd made him a promise. It didn't mean he was going to follow every unreasonable demand Tom made, but when it came to sharing any part of himself with anyone, even a little child who was only a temporary presence in his life, he had no choice. Better to swallow it down than risk alienating Tom or bringing harm to anyone. Not again.
"He's fine now," Harry said evenly. The bitterness was still gnawing at him, but he managed to push it down enough for his voice to remain unaffected. "Let's go to the kitchen, we should eat something."
Tom's eyes narrowed, cautious and hostile, but after a moment of hesitation, he gave him a nod, and Harry put the baby back into his crib.
They left the room silently, and they barely exchanged a couple of words by the end of the day.
Harry's dreams were dark and anxious. He woke up in the middle of the night with a certainty that he was drowning, and it took a while for his brain to calm and to realise it wasn't really suffocating. But even as it happened, the sensation of wrongness didn't disappear, and with a start, he sat up in his bed, his heart pounding.
Tom was standing above him. His fists were clenched so tightly that his hands looked abnormally pale even in the darkness. His hair was dishevelled, as if he had spent hours running his fingers through it nervously, but it was the wild, completely unhinged look in his eyes that injected Harry with sudden terror.
"What's wrong?" he whispered. "Tom. Talk to me."
"You need to get it out of our house," Tom said. His voice was laborious, every word coming out as a small gasp. "Not in several days. Right now."
"You have to do it now because I hate it. I hate it, and if it stays, I'll kill it."
He expected it. He expected it, but he still recoiled, feeling bile rise up his throat, choking him for real this time.
"Explain why," Harry gritted out, even though each syllable appeared to be stuck in his mouth. "Explain why you can't wait for two more bloody days."
"Because you aren't going to give it up in two days!" Tom hissed. Something on Harry's shelf shattered loudly — a glass, from the sound of it. "I know you. You'll want to find it a perfect family who'll raise a perfect child, but it's never going to happen because no one wants a burden like this! Two days will turn into four, four days will become a week, and then you'll get so attached that you'll refuse to give it to anyone else. I won't allow it. I should have never told you it was there."
"You saved a life," Harry whispered. Something wet brushed against his lower eyelids and he tried to blink it away. This was a nightmare, one he didn't know how to end. "No matter what you feel now, you did the right thing then. Don't taint it."
"Then don't ignore me!" Tom spat, and these words jolted Harry out of bed. Vaguely, he realised his own hands were curled into trembling fists — or maybe his whole body was trembling, unable to cope with Tom's accusations, with inevitability of what he was going to have to do.
"I have never ignored you!" he shouted, and there was an audible crackle in the air, a pulse of more volatile magic — his magic this time. "My whole life revolves around you! My every day starts and ends with you! Even in this situation, this temporary situation with the boy, I made sure you remained my priority. How can you not see that!"
"I don't need to be your priority!" Tom bellowed. In one single step, he closed the distance between them, grabbing him by his shirt, his knuckles digging deeply into Harry's collarbone. "Priority implies competition and I won't tolerate it. I will never tolerate it. We won't share our life with anyone! I don't care if it's for one day or one year, I won't let it happen. So get it out before I do something you asked me not to!"
For a second, Harry's vision turned red. The hopeless uncontrollable fury reached its peak, incinerating him from inside, rising up and up, thick and disgusting like vomit. The need to spew it, to scream himself hoarse until Tom stopped doing this to him turned into an almost physical necessity, but then Tom threw his hands around his neck, burying his head in his throat, and Harry felt how fast his heart was beating against his own chest.
"I don't want you to mollify me or try to distract me like you've been doing," Tom whispered feverishly, all but melting against him. "I just want you with me. Always with me. I won't allow you to think of someone else, I won't allow you to change our plans just because someone else needs you. I told you, you are mine. You promised you are mine. You promised."
"I did," Harry said tiredly. "And I am. This child doesn't change anything."
"I don't care. I want it gone."
"Yes, I can see that."
Silence fell, interrupted only by their sharp breathing. Slowly, the red haze of anger began to fade, and when it did, Harry felt wrung out. Exhausted beyond belief.
Despite the bitterness twisting somewhere in his stomach, he couldn't summon the energy to stay angry because… what would it change? Tom was who he was. Whether Harry had screwed up or Tom had always been like this, it didn't change the present. Maybe one day, when Tom inevitably discovered there's more to life than him, this suffocating hold would loosen, but until then, Harry's choices were limited. When pushed, he would choose Tom — he would always choose Tom. Tom was more important than freedom, more important than common sense and rational decisions. So there was only one thing he could do.
"Let's go, then," Harry squeezed Tom's nape firmly, forcing a tight smile when Tom peered into his face. "There is no point in waiting."
"Go where?" Tom muttered warily.
"To the orphanage. It's the only place that will agree to accept him. He's healthy now, and I'll give them money so they would…" Harry trailed off, swallowing around the lump in his throat.
So they would treat the boy well. So they wouldn't cast him away. So he wouldn't feel unloved and abandoned.
It wasn't enough, but it was something.
"You will never see him again, though. Will you?" Tom tilted his head, staring at him, and Harry met his gaze steadily.
"I won't make this promise," he said. Seeing how Tom instantly bristled, he shook his head. "Don't start. I agreed to give him up without waiting. You are right, I won't be able to find a good family for him in two days, not at times like this, so there is no point in delaying the inevitable. But I might still visit him occasionally."
"Stop it." The hardness in his own words surprised him. It surprised Tom, too, from how he shifted nervously, suddenly looking unsure. "Don't abuse your right to make demands of me. You are the only person I love, but it doesn't mean I'm not going to watch out for those who depend on me. And this child depends on us both."
Tom frowned, puzzled, and Harry jumped on the chance before it could slip away.
"You found him. You helped me save him. This boy is our shared responsibility now, so while we won't participate in his life, we'll check on him sometimes. Together."
Finally, he said the right thing because the frown smoothed out. Tom nodded at him, thoughtful and serious, and Harry nodded back in response.
"Let's do it," he said determinedly.
When they returned home, it was already morning. Harry closed the curtains with a wave of his wand and crawled into bed, trying to keep himself awake long enough to see what Tom was going to do. He didn't have to wait long — very soon, Tom followed him into his bed, covering them both with a blanket. His eyes were surprisingly alert for someone who hadn't gotten any sleep last night, but Harry had no strength to be bothered by it now. His mind kept flashing to the face of a woman who had taken the child from him, to her stern and unsmiling features. But the boy stopped wailing the moment she began to rock him, and that gave Harry hope. Maybe everything would be fine. It was for the better — Tom was right. He would have gotten attached even more with time, and there was no guarantee he'd be able to find him a good family.
Comforted by these thoughts, Harry finally let the darkness take him. When he woke up, the lights in the room became a little brighter. Tom was sitting next to him, staring at him, and there was something very strange about his expression.
"Have you slept even a little bit?" Harry muttered with a yawn. Tom shook his head before biting his lip in an uncharacteristically nervous gesture, and only now did Harry feel the floods of anxiety he was emanating.
"What's wrong?" he asked, frowning. He thought they were over the worst already. What else could be possibly worrying Tom like this?
"Nothing," Tom replied quickly. "I was just wondering if the system you suggested at summer is still relevant. The one with rewards and punishments."
Oh. He'd completely forgotten.
"Yes," Harry said. The irrational part of his mind rebelled against the idea of rewarding Tom in this particular case, but with an effort, he brought it to order.
Tom had done the right thing, no matter how much Harry disliked it. Instead of plotting, pretending, and acting behind his back, Tom was genuine and open about his feelings. He might have been selfish, but he proved his growth, he chose to trust him, and Harry couldn't leave it unrewarded.
"Yes," he said again, firmer this time. "It's still relevant."
Tom's eyes flashed in triumph before even more anxiety filled them. He dug his fingers into his knees, lowering his gaze and half-shrugging, as if responding to his own unvoiced question.
Curiosity settled in, subduing the remaining pangs of bitterness. Harry sat up too, trying to catch Tom's gaze.
"What is it?" he wondered. "Is there something specific you want to ask me for?"
"I do," Tom finally looked at him. His eyes were burning brightly, and the first spots of colour on his cheeks chased away his usual paleness. His hands jerked awkwardly, like he wasn't sure what to do with them, and when Harry raised a questioning eyebrow, Tom flushed even more.
"What?" Harry asked, leaning closer. He was smiling now, too amused and intrigued to stay serious. Whatever this wish was, it had to be something either deeply embarrassing or absolutely outrageous. Nothing else would turn his Tom into this blushing and awkward doppelganger.
"I want you to—" Tom's gaze slid down Harry's face, stopping there. His blush intensified — Harry could almost feel its heat. "I want you to—" Tom tried again, but the words still failed to come. Even his nose was red now, and following the impulse shaped by tenderness unfolding inside him, Harry brushed his own nose against it, smiling in simple joy from how warm it felt. When he pulled back, Tom's eyes fluttered. It felt like he was struggling to keep them open, and when their looks finally met again, Tom's was completely glazed over.
"Can't decide?" Harry teased him. "I told you that you should get some sleep. What if you ask for something now and then change your mind after you wake up?"
"I won't," Tom kept staring at him. "I know what I want."
"Well, then say it."
But Tom didn't. His lips moved, shaping the words and freezing before any sound escaped. There was almost a desperate glint to his eyes, a need so strong that the unease raised its head in Harry's heart, putting a stop to the amusement he was feeling.
"Tom, what is it?" he uttered softly. "Tell me."
Tom shook his head, and the despair faded, changing into resignation.
"Nothing," he muttered. "I'll leave the decision to you this time."
"I want you to surprise me. I'm curious as to what you could come up with."
This was a very obvious lie, but after a brief hesitation and a fight with his protesting curiosity, Harry chose against pressing further. Tom would talk when he was ready to talk — no force in the world could make him speak when he didn't want to.
"All right," he agreed. "But I'll need a few days to think about it."
Tom nodded glumly before crawling closer and pushing him back down onto the pillow. When Harry succumbed, Tom dropped his head on his chest, wrapping an arm around his stomach possessively. Every Harry's cell sang with warm pleasure under this touch, and a new rush of sleepy contentment hit him.
Being with Tom was worth every sacrifice. Tom might be selfish, cold, monstrous in the eyes of some people, but he was his. And Harry wouldn't change it for anything.
It took him almost a week to come up with the reward. They returned to Hogwarts by that time, and Harry spent every free moment considering and discarding different options. He wanted the reward to be meaningful, capable of impressing Tom, but it was easier said than done.
On the sixth day, Harry thought of the Room of Requirement. After careful probing, he determined that Tom hadn't discovered it yet, so he brought him to the seventh floor during dinner, stopping next to the familiar wall.
"And this is the reward?" Tom squinted suspiciously. "A wall?"
"It's a special wall."
"Looks the same as all other walls in the castle to me."
"Patience," Harry chided him. "I want you to concentrate. Think about what you need most at this moment. Visualise it, then walk three times past the wall."
Tom's look clearly suggested that he doubted Harry's sanity, but with a long-suffering sigh, he stared ahead without blinking. Then he walked past the wall unhurriedly, and when the door appeared right in front of him, he stopped, gaping at it.
"Is that some secret passage?" he asked, making no move to touch the handle. His voice was guarded. "How did you know it was here? Where does it lead to?"
Harry just shrugged, knowing his lips were twitching in a traitorous smile. Leave it to Tom to be suspicious even as he was getting rewarded.
Tom finally reached for the handle, pulling at it carefully, and then they both froze, seeing the familiar room greet them.
"My bedroom?" Harry quirked an eyebrow, looking around in bemusement. Every little detail was preserved, even the garish statue of a lion Tom hated so much. "I thought it would be a throne room or something equally pretentious."
"I'm not pretentious," Tom grumbled, but his face was burning. He looked both fascinated and mortified. "You didn't clarify, how was I to know what I should be thinking about?"
"So what did you think about?"
This time, Tom sent him an almost pitying look.
"About home," he said finally. A strange feeling that had made a place for itself somewhere underneath Harry's ribcage retreated, dimming the shadow of a distant, vague realisation. He smiled, touched, and closed the door behind them.
Tom could use this room for different purposes — with his thirst for knowledge and experiments, he would frequent it daily. Maybe it would never take the form of their house again, but the fact that it did so now sent a current of joy through Harry's chest.
He was Tom's home as much as Tom was his. He knew it wouldn't last forever — it couldn't, Tom would inevitably move on with time, but he was going to enjoy what he had for as long as it was possible.
Having to grade essays wasn't something Harry was pleased to return to, but the practical side of his lessons filled him with almost childish enthusiasm. Seeing his students respond in kind was exciting, so he prepared each lesson diligently, including as many useful elements as he could think of. Now that he knew most students personally, he started to devise individual tasks for them.
They were smart — all of them, in their own way. But no one could compare to Tom, and Harry wasn't sure if it was because of his brilliant mind, his intense desire to be the best in DADA class, or the simple fact of his existence. Whenever Tom was in the vicinity, Harry's eyes were drawn to him. Tom was blinding in his radiance, and Harry was disturbingly aware that if given a chance, he'd spend all their lessons staring, catching every Tom's movement, memorising every word he spoke.
Tomorrow would be a tough day. Harry had been trying to delay this moment for months, but his excuses to himself stopped working a while ago. Tom's classmates had undergone enough preparation and tests, so it was time to introduce them to Patronus Charm.
Voldemort and most of his Death Eaters had been incapable of conjuring a Patronus. Dumbledore had several theories about that, and Harry wasn't sure which one he believed. What he did believe was that Patronus required a powerful positive energy, a pure kind of it, and beings like Voldemort, soul-crippled and rotten, could never hope to experience it. The happiness he felt was a pale imitation of the real thing, and even if he had won the war, Harry was certain that it wouldn't be enough to fuel this charm.
Tom Riddle might have been able to use Patronus, but Harry doubted that he had enough truly happy memories to do it. His Tom, though… His soul was complete. It wasn't pure any longer, not after Beth, but it didn't mean it was corrupted beyond hope. There was still a chance that there was more light than darkness living in him, that his happiness was wholesome, and that Patronus would be just another spell he mastered.
But maybe not. Maybe Tom, with the circumstances of his birth, with his inability to feel like other people felt, couldn't access magic this light. Maybe his happy memories were still a shadow, something incapable of forming a strong corporeal Patronus, an embodiment of light and love.
It wouldn't make a difference for Harry. It might break his heart, but he wouldn't let it tarnish his belief in Tom. Tom himself, on the other hand… The failure to cope with a spell could infuriate him. Worse, it could hurt him, instilling a certainty that he was flawed and only pushing him further onto the path Harry hoped he would never follow.
Or perhaps he was exaggerating. He knew for a fact that only few students would be able to summon a corporeal Patronus, if any at all. If Tom failed, he really wouldn't be the only one, so he'd have no reasons to think light magic was inaccessible to him alone.
No, he really was making it far too complex. The truth was much simpler: if Tom failed with the Patronus in front of everyone, he would be upset and discouraged, and Harry couldn't stand the idea of it.
That's why he sought Tom out in the evening and dragged him into his office, feeling guilty but grimly determined.
He would teach Tom everything he knew about this charm. It would give him a better foundation for succeeding in comparison to his classmates, so even if he never conjured a complete form of it, he'd still have an advantage. He'd still do better than many others.
It wasn't fair, but the alternative was worse.
"What will we be doing?" Tom wondered, looking at him with unabashed curiosity.
"I'm going to start teaching fifth-years a difficult charm tomorrow," Harry said. "But I wanted to practice it with you first."
Harry hesitated, and Tom's face tightened.
"Do you doubt you'll be able to demonstrate it or do you doubt I'll be able to excel in it?" he asked coolly.
"Neither," Harry said. At Tom's narrow-eyed stare, he shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. "It's an important and difficult charm. Hardly anyone is going to succeed at all, not even after ten or twenty tries, so I'll have to spend a lot of time monitoring less capable students. I want to cover the basics with you in advance because I want to see you try it myself, and I won't be able to pay proper attention to you tomorrow — I know you won't make the mistakes others would."
The tense lines on Tom's face loosened, and the aggressive swirls in his magic fizzled out.
"All right," he agreed. "What is this spell?"
"Have you heard about the Patronus Charm?"
Apprehension flickered in Tom's gaze for a second before he masked it.
"Yes," he said stiffly. "I already know the basics but I've never tried casting it before. I don't believe it's a necessary charm."
"Oh, but it is," Harry retorted. "You never know in which situation you might find yourself. Dementors aren't attached to Azkaban indefinitely. What if you were attacked by one?"
"Dementors are drawn to emotional fools who experience vivid feelings," Tom argued. "They wouldn't target me deliberately, they'd always pick someone else if there was a choice."
"Let's imagine it's true. What if they picked me?"
Shock and denial twisted Tom's features. His breathing grew sharper, but he still tried to stand his ground.
"If you intend to teach me this charm, you must be capable of producing it. You wouldn't need my help."
"I could be incapacitated or taken aback. Or outnumbered." The latter wouldn't be a problem, but Tom didn't need to know about it. His reservations about trying the Patronus and his irrational protectiveness would clash, and Harry was fairly sure he knew which would prevail.
As he'd expected, Tom didn't hesitate long. A few seconds later, he raised his chin, a steely resolve darkening his eyes.
"Fine," he said shortly. "Let's do it. But I don't know all the details."
Harry swallowed the emerging smile. Tom wouldn't appreciate seeing it.
"Patronus is a guardian in a way," he explained. "In most cases, it takes the form of an animal you have an affinity with, something that represents you. Sometimes it might mirror the person you have deep feelings for. For example, in basic terms, if your animal would typically be a snake but you are in love with a Gryffindor, your Patronus might be a lion — or vice versa."
Tom's eyes widened a fraction, but he said nothing, so Harry continued.
"My Patronus has always been a stag. It's the Patronus my father had, and since I never had a chance to know him, my fantasies and my hopes about him were embodied in this image, in this kind of link between us. It's the—" Harry cut himself off, noticing how Tom's lips curled in a small but ugly snarl. "What?"
"Nothing," Tom said, but the disgust in his voice belied his words. Puzzled, Harry tried to figure out the reason for it, but nothing came to his mind. What could Tom have against his father? Or was it the sentiment he was objecting to?
"I know that the charm is focused on memories," Tom interrupted his thoughts, sounding calmer now. "So what should I imagine?"
"Anything that makes you truly happy," Harry replied automatically. "Something that could make you smile just from thinking about it. It has to be a powerful memory, one that you know will stay forever with you. "
"Can you show me?" Tom inclined his head, his eyes piercing. "I've never seen a Patronus before."
"Of course." Harry raised his wand, then paused.
So many years had passed since the last time he summoned his stag. What memory should he use now?
His parents. Sirius. Ron and Hermione.
The images flickered and dimmed. They felt like illusions, not like real memories. They didn't bring the expected surge of confidence and joy, the belief that he could do anything, become anything to experience this overwhelming feeling of happiness again.
The mere whisper of this name breathed life into him. Harry's magic rushed through the wand before he had a chance to say anything, and a million images shot through his mind, making every his cell sing in fulfilment.
Hugging Tom for the first time. Seeing his first genuine smile. Cooking together. Decorating their Christmas tree. Dancing. Sleeping in each other's arms, the sensations of home, safety, comfort that came with it.
Yes, Tom. Tom was his source of light.
Contrary to all recommendations, Harry couldn't concentrate on just one memory, but the storm of ebullience still whirled through him, charging him with the energy he needed.
"Expecto Patronum," he said clearly. A corporeal silver shape burst forward, brightening the entire room with its brilliance, and Harry felt so childishly happy from succeeding that it took him a moment to realise something.
This wasn't a stag. For one thing, his Patronus wasn't standing on the floor like it usually did — it was floating high in the air. More than that, it had wings now, and its neck had become much longer. It was…
It was a dragon. It was something as far from the stag as it could get.
The realisation knocked every shred of self-control right out of him, and Harry stared with his mouth agape as his thoughts scrambled, trying to re-arrange themselves into something that made sense again.
Maybe it was naïve to expect his Patronus to remain the same without evolving. He was a very different person from the boy he'd once been. But the stag had always been more than just a Patronus to him — it was a link to his father. A father he was never going to see again because their line had been interrupted with Charlus Potter's murder.
Speechless, Harry continued to watch the new shape flying above, looking for the enemies that weren't there.
"A dragon," Tom said softly. With a start, Harry turned to him. Tom's eyes were wide and fascinated, and the radiance from the Patronus seemed to make them lighter, giving him an almost innocent look. "Your Patronus is a dragon, not a stag. So it must have changed."
Slowly, Tom shifted his gaze to him, and his entire face was alight with joy and delight so powerful, Harry felt rooted to a spot under their impact.
"It changed because of me," Tom whispered. "You told me on my birthday that I remind you of dragons. So your emotions, your feelings took a shape of one. You love me."
Despite a strange embarrassment burning through him, Harry laughed.
"How is that surprising to you?" he asked. "I have never denied loving you. Of course I do."
"But it's different," Tom turned to stare at the dragon again. "It's proof. Tangible proof."
There were many things Harry could say to that, but he swallowed all the words down. If Tom was still insecure in any way… although how could he possibly be, after everything... then maybe having his Patronus change shapes was a good thing. And even though a part of Harry mourned the loss of one more link with his father, he couldn't deny that he understood why it happened.
Tom was his life. It was no wonder that his magic reflected it.
"Your turn now," Harry said a little hoarsely. Tom paid him no mind, his eyes glued to the dragon greedily. Taking a careful step forward, he held out his hand, and the creature reached for it curiously.
Harry allowed the moment to last and then he waved his wand again, almost reluctantly. The glow faded, but Tom kept looking at the spot when it had been floating. His magic felt soft and light, wrapping its tendrils around Harry lovingly. Harry had never felt anything like this before — he could always sense Tom's power, a dangerous shift in the air whenever he experienced strong emotions, but this? This was like a blanket, warm and comforting, and if Harry could, he would have wrapped it around himself tighter.
Tom shook his head lightly, as if shaking off the daze, and then he raised his wand.
"Expecto Patronum," he commanded. Silver sparks shot up, bright but shapeless. Tom faltered, and the dizzying cocoon of his magic suddenly evaporated, with something darker coming in its place.
"Expecto Patronum," he tried again, but this time, even the sparks didn't emerge. The room remained silent and cold.
Wordlessly, Harry approached, and his heart clenched at the guarded look Tom sent his way.
"It's all right," he said firmly. "I don't expect you to succeed right away or even at all. Like I said before, this charm is special. Even the most powerful wizards aren't guaranteed to master it because it requires a combination of many different things. The circumstances—"
"Expecto Patronum!" Tom growled, jerking his wand up. Nothing happened, and his knuckles whitened. Fury began to flow out of him in palpable waves, but before he could repeat the incantation again, Harry put his hands on his shoulders, pressing his lips to his ear.
"Stop," he ordered quietly, and Tom froze, the tension in his rigid back receding. "You know how this charm works. It thrives on light and positivity. The angrier you get, the less chances of succeeding there are."
"I wasn't angry the first time," Tom gritted out. "It still didn't work."
"You can't expect it to work immediately. Choose a specific memory. Relax. Try to focus on it. Feel the happiness from it in every part of your mind, then try again."
Tom straightened, gripping his wand tighter. The tension returned, so Harry clenched his shoulders harder, nuzzling his hair.
"Imagine that there are clouds above you," he whispered. "Dark and heavy clouds. You are cold and you want to see the sun, but the clouds won't let you. They are too thick, too grey. In this coldness, you're slowly forgetting who you are. What would give you the power to summon the light? What would ground you, make you feel warm and happy again? What would make you hold on?"
Tom was silent for a long time, but gradually, Harry began to sense a shift in his magic. Its dark intensity wavered, replaced by lighter and calmer undertones, and suddenly, all air in the room seemed to evaporate, flowing into Tom and transforming into a powerful wall of pure energy.
"Expecto Patronum," he said, and this time, a wholesome radiant shape burst forward in one elegant swoop, stretching its wings wide.
A dragon. The same as Harry had just conjured, from its narrow face to the powerful scaled wings.
For a moment, the sheer happiness of Tom succeeding made Harry light-headed, filling him with bone-deep bliss that coloured his vision sparkly white. He felt exhilarated. He felt capable of producing an army of Patronuses because Tom was right, this was tangible proof. Proof of Tom's soul not being crippled. Proof of him being able to do the lightest form of magic there was.
When the awareness began to seep through, Harry's attention shifted to the fact that he was seeing the exact copy of his own dragon. It was… strange, to say the least. His own Patronus was clearly tied to Tom. So Tom's was tied to himself? Or…
The breath was suddenly knocked out of his chest. He inhaled deeply, shocked and not daring to believe it, but… it made sense. It made perfect sense.
Tom's Patronus was anchored to Harry's perception of him. He might protest and ridicule the values Harry had been trying to instil in him, but he still yearned to correspond to them, to be the person Harry wanted him to be. It was all there, in the silver and beautiful creature soaring above their heads, proud, loyal, and fierce, a reflection of everything Harry had hoped for.
Tom wasn't perfect, not by a long shot, but he wanted to be perfect for him. It was the best gift Harry had ever received.
Unable to find any other outlet, his joy materialised through tears that suddenly flooded his eyes. Harry blinked and finally looked away from the dragon, finding Tom already staring at him.
"There were clouds above me," he said expressionlessly. "In the orphanage. No sun. Only greyness. And then you came and took me away."
A lump in his throat grew, thickened, and Harry found himself unable to comment. He took Tom into his arms instead, sagging when Tom immediately hugged him back.
"I love you," Harry breathed out. "More than anything."
As always, Tom said nothing in response, but his dragon was still fluttering nearby, expressing more than any words ever could.
The rest of the school year flew by quickly. Harry spent it in a strange giddy state, knowing he's overestimating the impact of Tom conjuring the Patronus but incapable of stopping himself from feeling reckless with elation. Only one other student from Tom's year had managed to produce a fully corporeal charm, and though it was wrong, this fact made him even more proud.
Tom's behaviour was almost flawless. He still threw dark glances at students Harry paid close attention to, but other than that, there was nothing concerning or disturbing. In fact, Tom seemed to have doubled his efforts in forming close connections with all other students, and his influence appeared to be surprisingly positive. Maybe Harry was biased, but he didn't think he'd ever seen all Houses this united. Tom was relentless in finding approach to everyone, and it was difficult to meet even one person who wouldn't be charmed by him.
Not counting Dumbledore, obviously. Dumbledore who had called Harry into his office the day before the summer holidays started.
"You wanted to see me?" Harry asked, closing the door after himself. It was strange how even though Dumbledore wasn't a headmaster yet, Harry still saw him as such. Some associations were impossible to change.
"I did. Please, take a seat," Dumbledore pointed at the armchair. "It won't take long."
Harry nodded, but his wariness didn't subside. His childish affection for Dumbledore was an inherent part of him — he knew it would never fade, but Tom was taking precedence in everything, and the fact that Dumbledore was suspicious of him meant that they couldn't be on the same side. No matter how justified these suspicions were.
"Headmaster Dippet and I are both pleased with your performance," Dumbledore said. "Your practical approach has certainly conquered the hearts of the students. Why, I believe this school hasn't seen this much enthusiasm since the addition of Quidditch into curriculum."
Harry smiled wanly, accepting the compliment but knowing this wasn't why he was summoned in here. Dumbledore always started with light-hearted things before moving to subjects he actually wanted to discuss. This didn't change in this time.
"I do have some concerns about your relationship with Mr. Slytherin," he continued, and Harry tensed. "The reason why I invited you to teach here was my belief that you could provide a positive influence on him. He respects you and your high regard is undeniably his major motivation. But from what I've observed, you don't treat him as a mentor. You treat him like an equal. Like a peer. It might have undesirable consequences."
"With all respect," Harry interrupted harshly, "I don't see how my personal relationships are your business, professor. Unless you are accusing me of being unprofessional? I assure you that during lessons, I treat Tom like I do any other student."
"That's not what I meant," Dumbledore uttered softly, his eyes glistening in a way that made Harry feel unbalanced. Like he was missing something. "You indulge him. You allow him to destroy the boundaries — the vital boundaries, and you yourself seem keen to destroy them. As a consequence, he doesn't see you as his guardian."
More subtlety and hints that never went anywhere. How was Dumbledore a Gryffindor?
"Like I said," Harry repeated icily, "my personal relationships aren't your business. Tom and I know where we stand with each other. It's all that matters."
"I certainly hope that you do," Dumbledore studied him without smile. "Although I doubt it."
His temper flared up, and Harry had to fight the hot-headed impulse to jump to his feet and storm out.
"Why are you so focused on Tom?" he demanded instead. "What did he do to attract this kind of scrutiny from you? I know your first meeting didn't go well — that's my fault. But surely you can see how much he's changed. I've been watching him all this year and I can see that he's making positive changes here. So what exactly worries you?"
"I've already told you," Dumbledore sighed, leaning against the back of his chair. "You underestimate the potential influence of your relationship on the lives of others. But I can see it's too early to discuss it with you. Too early and yet too late. I apologize for taking your time."
Fuming, Harry stood up. Few people managed to rile him up like Dumbledore — and for what? He still had no idea what he even wanted to say.
"A beautiful ring," Dumbledore noted, and Harry stopped, turning to face him again.
"Thank you," he said coolly. "Tom gave it to me."
"I see," Dumbledore's gaze lingered on the roaring lion. "A symbol of Gryffindor?"
"This is the House I relate to most." No reply followed, so Harry turned away again. "Have a good day."
His heart felt heavy, but irritation was also buzzing under his skin, soaking it with bitterness and resentment.
He just wanted to be at peace with everyone — Tom, Dumbledore, even Rivers. But fate seemed to have other plans, and it was becoming increasingly frustrating.
At least he could have a good summer with no one but Tom.
June and July were gone in a blink. Nothing out of ordinary happened — he and Tom still took trips to find rare ingredients, cooked, spent evenings reading or watching films, or travelled to the key places of the wizarding world, sometimes leaving bewildered, unable to relate to what some communities classified as entertainment, sometimes excited. The only deviation from their normal summers was the frequency of their visits to the shops.
Tom seemed to develop an even more intense interest in clothes. He always fussed about how he looked and which clothes he wore, but this summer, his obsession increased to an almost concerning extent. More than that, he was focusing on Muggle shops too now.
"Does it suit me?" Tom asked, twisting around. Harry supressed a sigh.
"Looks like the same ten pairs of trousers you've already tried," he grumbled, and Tom's jaw clenched.
"This pair has pleats."
"Who cares about pleats?" If they weren't being watched by shop assistant, Harry would have banged his head against the wall in frustration. "Trousers are trousers! They just are."
For whatever reason, Tom seemed equally frustrated with him.
"What about the cuffs?" he asked stiffly. "Do you like them better?"
Tom's lips tightened. Without saying a word, he stormed off — probably to try the twelfth pair, and honestly, what was wrong with him? He knew Harry wasn't an expert on clothing, why would he suddenly become so interested in his opinion?
Other than that, Tom seemed… quieter. They bantered less and less, with Tom choosing to just sit and watch him instead. Harry didn't mind, not as long as they remained in the vicinity of each other, but sometimes, he couldn't help but feel concerned. Something was going on, but Tom didn't seem willing to share it.
On his birthday, Tom unexpectedly gave him a book titled Obliviate: Nuances and Ways of Usage. At Harry's questioning look, he shrugged.
"It's a rare book and a relatively unexplored charm," he said tranquilly. "I thought you might be interested in learning more about it."
This non-answer didn't clarify anything, and Harry wasn't stupid enough to think that such gift had no deeper meaning. Tom never did simple things, he always built long and intricate schemas. The problem was, Harry couldn't figure them out.
Was it a hint? Had Tom erased his memory at some point? Doubtful. Harry wasn't this oblivious. So what else could it mean?
Obsessing over it was senseless because he'd never get anywhere, so in the end, Harry accepted the gift with thanks. He started reading the book the same night, feeling Tom's intent gaze on himself throughout.
In August, they went for an extended vacation to a small Muggle island untouched by the war. Ridiculously, most of their suitcases were filled with Tom's clothes — Harry's thoughtless, 'I like you in green' resulted in the appearance of an entirely new wardrobe in all possible and impossible shades of this colour. Considering the fact that he and Tom spent most of their days on the beach, it was even more absurd, but Tom clearly didn't think so. He stubbornly changed clothes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even if he ended up wearing them for about an hour in total.
"Are you planning on becoming a model?" Harry wondered, barely keeping his lips from trembling in the suicidal urge to burst in laugher. Tom shot him a sour glance.
"Every person should strive to look their best," he replied curtly.
"Even when there is no one around to see it?"
"Well, you are here, aren't you? You see it."
Slowly, Harry's smile faded. A strange feeling settled somewhere deep in his bones, a combination of unease, worry, and longing.
Tom sounded upset. All this time, Harry was convinced that he was undergoing some inner crisis and compensating for it by playing in a prince, collecting clothes like some did stamps, but maybe something more serious was happening. Maybe Tom genuinely needed reassurance.
He caught Tom by his hand, drawing him closer, noting how his eyes widened.
"You always look beautiful to me," Harry said quietly. "And the diversity of your wardrobe doesn't have anything to do with it."
Tom's breathing stuttered to a stop. For a moment, there was nothing but silence between them, full of piercing, unexplainable tension. Harry's head felt surprisingly light, and he thought he saw the same strange daze in Tom's eyes. But before he could understand it, Apophis flew into the room, crashing into shelf and letting out a displeased sound. Then he stared at them, and Harry frowned.
"What's wrong with your bird?" he asked. "He's been acting strange lately."
Tom didn't reply, watching him with an inscrutable gaze. A chill travelled down Harry's spine, and he licked his lips, suddenly feeling ignorant and out of place.
He was right. Something was happening. Tom was doing something… But what?
That night, Harry waited for Tom to fall asleep before reaching above him and snatching the book he'd been reading from the bedside table. His fingers felt clumsy, but he managed to hold it still, examining the title.
Life Magic. Short and vague.
He didn't know what section Tom was reading, exactly, there was no bookmark, and the list of contents had so many options that Harry couldn't begin to understand what had drawn his attention. It seemed like every topic related to life was covered here, from ways to increase fertility to unbreakable bonding and theories about necromancy. Nothing immediately suspicious — unless Tom had taken Rivers' accusations seriously and was now exploring the opportunity of Harry being a necromancer.
This was too laughable to be true, so with a snort, Harry returned the book to its place and pulled a blanket over himself and Tom. Tom didn't shift, and for a while, Harry watched him, studying every line on his face, as if he hadn't committed them all to memory already.
All his doubts retreated in moments like this. Being together with Tom, in the world where only the two of them existed, brought a sense of calmness and rightness with it. Right now, he didn't need Hogwarts or even the familiar faces of people he cared about — he was more than happy to live in the present, to stay frozen in it for years, maybe decades to come.
Tom was changing for the better, Harry could feel it. He couldn't accept the victims this change had brought, it was too painful to dwell on it in any way, but at least it had some positive consequences, too. Tom had dropped the masks and was trusting him with his genuine feelings, no matter how terrifying they were at times.
And he was capable of producing a Patronus. Harry's heart still sang with joy at the memory of it, at the implications it had. Because if Tom had an affinity for such light magic and his Patronus was a reflection of what Harry saw in him, then he couldn't have the same darkness that had tainted Voldemort.
He'd made a mistake once, but he wasn't going to repeat it. He wouldn't let Tom fall again.
Pushing himself closer, Harry clenched Tom's hand in his and closed his eyes.
At some point, on the verge of falling asleep, something caused him to glance up.
Apophis was sitting on the windowsill, looking at them. Again.
It seemed he was doing this more and more lately. Sometimes it felt like it was stalking him — or rather, him and Tom together because Harry couldn't recall the last time he saw the bird without Tom around.
A little unnerved, he closed his eyes again, putting his free hand around Tom in a protective grip.
Then he was asleep.
They spent the entire August on the beach, soaking in the sun and enjoying the fact that almost no other people were around. Tom didn't seem averse to playing childish games when there were no witnesses around, so their days started and ended with laughter until their voices began to grow hoarse from it.
Returning to Hogwarts felt jarring because of the loudness and incessant activity taking place, but a few days later, Harry adapted anew. Rivers was surprisingly absent, but he didn't risk asking where he had gone, not wanting to jinx it.
On Thursday, Harry didn't have the first lesson, so he allowed himself to laze around in bed, opting to ask the house-elves to bring breakfast here. He was about to finally get up when the door slammed open, and a familiar cloud of agitated magic filled his rooms. A moment later, Tom burst inside, looking so lost that Harry immediately sat up.
"What happened?" he demanded. Tom's first lesson was Potions — did someone get hurt? Although it was doubtful Tom would be bothered by it if they had.
Tom stilled, blinking at him, before pushing his hands behind his back.
"I wanted to ask you something," he said. His voice was even, a sharp contrast with his magic that was still going haywire. "Do you know anything about Amortentia?"
"Is that a scientific interest?" Harry arched an eyebrow, his concerns evaporating. Tom had occasional flares of study-related anxiety, convincing himself he didn't understand something he was supposed to. It was flattering that he came to Harry for answers, but in most cases, it turned out to be futile.
"Yes," Tom replied after a pause.
"Is there anything specific you'd like to know? Because I assume you've already read about it in your Potions book."
"The information there doesn't seem to be complete," Tom looked away for a second. "It says that the scent of the potion is multi-faceted. That it varies in accordance with what a person likes, which makes the combination entirely unique."
"And so?" Harry finally crawled out of bed, studying the clothes he'd dropped on the floor the previous night. Would it be okay to put them on again? It's not like anyone would see them under the robe. That was, if he chose to wear the robe today — he didn't obey limitations if there was a way to avoid them.
The silence dragged on, so Harry turned to check if Tom was still here. He was. His initial gravity seemed to falter, and now he was looking flushed and confused, his eyes a shade darker than they had been a minute ago.
Harry thought the end of the summer cured Tom of his internal crisis, whatever had been causing it — the fact that he didn't request a new wardrobe exclusively for Hogwarts was a good sign, but it seemed he was wrong. Tom was still alternating between different moods, and this lost look would have been amusing if it didn't emerge so often lately.
"What is it?" Harry asked more softly, putting on a crumpled shirt and straightening it carefully. "What about Amortentia?"
"What if—" Tom hesitated. Then a determined expression overtook his face, wiping all traces of uncertainty away. "What if the scent isn't multi-faceted? What if it smells of just one thing?"
A spark of rare academic interest ran through him, and Harry hummed, trying to think of an answer.
Like Tom had said, what made Amortentia unique was the combination of smells an individual found most attractive. For it to smell like one thing… this didn't seem possible. Why would it? Every person had various interests and multiple things they found desirable. Surely there had to be more than one smell.
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "I don't see how it could be possible. Is it hypothetical or did it actually happen?"
For Tom to react this strongly, he had to be motivated by a personal interest. Either he was having problems with a theory he was trying to prove… or he sensed such scent himself during today's lesson.
His stomach suddenly churned in dread, and Harry didn't know why.
"It's hypothetical," Tom said at last, but the pause had been too long, too unsure. The churning intensified, and Harry tried to twist his lips in a smile.
"Of course," he said, his voice subdued. He had to put trousers on now, but his hands felt listless, refusing to obey. "If someone gets only one scent, I imagine that whatever they smell, it has to have a very powerful impact on this person. Something so strong that it subdues all other things they find attractive. And since Amortentia has a romantic nature, I imagine this scent has to be rooted in it — it must be something that stirs romantic thoughts, feelings, or associations in you."
Tom was silent again, and the more it lasted, the harder Harry's heart clenched.
He wasn't sure what Tom's potion could smell like. For it to have only one scent… If this was something other than Amortentia, Harry would have thought of himself, but Amortentia set a romantic direction, so this wasn't about him. It couldn't be.
Still without saying a word, Tom walked out of his rooms, and for the first time, Harry didn't feel like stopping him.
Tom's behaviour for the last couple of months… could he be in love? Was this what his insistent attempts to look his best were about?
Dumbledore always implied that Tom Riddle was incapable of something like romantic sentiments, but his Tom was different, wasn't he? If he could produce a Patronus, he could certainly fall in love.
Disturbed at how unsettled this thought made him feel, Harry continued to dress, although his thoughts were scattered.
Tom, in love.
He wasn't sure he wanted to see it.
He and Tom didn't talk again for the next several days, and the loss felt sharp against Harry's heart.
Tom used to seek him out. Apart from lessons and meals, they always had at least several private encounters every day. Maybe the problem was in the increased responsibility — Tom was a prefect now, something Harry still glowed about. Tom had received his badge back at summer, and Harry even took him to a ridiculously expensive restaurant for celebration. But regardless of the reason, the absence of their routine carried an almost physical weight, distracting him from his job and sharpening his focus on Tom to an even larger extent. That was why he immediately noticed the change among Tom's inner circle.
Before, Tom had treated Lestrange with condescending indulgence. Now, he seemed to genuinely enjoy his company, listening to him with an expression of avid interest and even rewarding him with occasional smiles.
Harry didn't like it. He liked the implications of this change even less.
Could it be Lestrange whose scent Tom had sensed? It didn't seem likely. Hadn't Tom been planning to carelessly murder him less than two years ago just to make Harry come to Hogwarts?
But Tom had changed since then. Despite their closeness, they didn't spend 24/7 together, so who knew what went on in the Slytherin Common Room?
His stomach felt full of roiling, biting insects, and the more Tom ignored him, the worse this feeling got.
When Harry caught himself raising his voice at Lestrange for an innocent mistake he would have ignored otherwise, he stopped, sickened and ashamed of himself.
What was he doing? This wasn't normal. If Dumbledore knew about it, he would have fired him on spot, rightfully so.
Automatically, Harry's eyes went to Tom, and he froze.
Tom was staring right back, with a small, cold smile on his face. His gaze was sharp and assessing, and Harry knew he didn't imagine the satisfaction there.
Even sicker now, he returned to his table, trying not to look back.
Tom was goading him. Tom was trying to provoke him. Was it revenge for something? Tom's mind could work in the strangest ways at times, he could take offense at the things Harry would never imagine to be offensive. One thing was clear, though — Lestrange was just a pawn… Probably. Whatever game Tom was playing, it was between them again, even if Harry didn't know the rules yet.
The fact that a huge part of him went boneless with relief at this was the final straw. This bewildering thing was getting out of control, and he was slipping like a teenager would.
Let Tom play his games and get this newest viciousness out of his system. Tom wanted to ignore him? Fine, Harry would gladly obey his wishes. Out of the two of them, Tom was the one who lacked patience, and he would lose this fight first. He should have never started it in the first place. And for what? That was the part Harry couldn't comprehend. Everything had been perfect up until they returned to Hogwarts.
Forcefully shutting these thoughts out, he focused on the lesson again.
This same day, Myrtle approached him, pushing her glasses up her nose nervously and clenching a book in her hands. Involuntarily, Harry smiled. Seeing her alive was as thrilling as seeing a teenage Hagrid wrestling with the beasts he kept smuggling in from the forest, as seeing a young version of McGonagall scolding those breaking the curfew and then sneaking out of the Gryffindor Common Room herself.
They were all his. He knew having a soft spot for some students over others wasn't a good idea, but this wasn't something he could fight against. Tom might have consumed him entirely, but it didn't mean seeing others didn't make his days brighter as well.
"Can I help you?" he asked. Myrtle shifted, pouting. She wasn't the most tolerable person to be around, but Harry was willing to ignore all that in favour of simply seeing her alive and well.
"I was wondering if you could help me with a Patronus Charm," she muttered. "I'm sure I'm doing everything right, but it's just not working."
Harry suppressed a sigh. He doubted Myrtle would be able to succeed any time soon — she was smart, yet she lacked confidence about everything, including the happiness of her memories. But he also knew he wouldn't be able to deny her.
"Sure," he said aloud. "Come to my office around seven today. We'll try again."
Myrtle blushed, ducking her head and muttering her thanks. Harry watched her go, and when he turned, he stumbled across Tom's emotionless gaze. Tom was standing at the other end of the corridor, doing nothing, just watching him. The distance between them had never felt as acute as it did now, and what infuriated Harry most was that he couldn't understand the cause of it.
'What did I do?' he wanted to shout. 'What did I do for you to act like this?'
Tom continued to be silent. Fed up with it, Harry disappeared back into his office, slamming the door shut.
Myrtle didn't come at seven. Slightly annoyed, Harry was getting ready to leave when a silver shape slid inside, curling its wings around him possessively.
"Come to the Room of Requirement," Tom's cold voice announced. "Don't wait long."
Tom had never used this little communication trick before, not after Harry had taught it to him. The Patronus faded, but the tension its emergence had brought remained.
What did Tom want now? Did he finally deign to talk to him and explain what was going on? Harry was tempted to ignore the message, he really was, but the taut feeling in the pit of his stomach didn't let him. Reluctantly, he locked his office and went to the seventh floor.
Tom met him at the door, looking composed and flawless, maybe only a little paler than normal.
"Inside," he said shortly. Warily, Harry walked into the room, and then his blood rushed to his head, turning to ice on its way up.
Myrtle was lying on the floor, her head smashed, with a small pool of blood spreading underneath.
Paralysed by horror, Harry didn't immediately understand that she was still breathing, and when he did, a powerful rush of relief nearly knocked him off his feet. Letting out a shaky breath he didn't know he'd been holding, Harry rushed to her, removing the blood to get better access to her wound. He couldn't tell how serious it was, and while in any other situation, he would brought her to the hospital wing immediately, now… now…
Balling his trembling fingers into fists, Harry raised his head, glaring at Tom.
"What did you do?" he hissed. "What is this?"
"Do you want the details?" the corner of Tom's lips quirked up. He looked bored, but Harry could sense the turmoil in him, rising and flaring and shattering into thousands pieces before reassembling itself. "I pushed her down the stairs. I wanted to kill her, but I changed my mind even before she landed, so then I tried to save her. She still hit her head, though."
Disgust and fury shot up through him, blackening the world around him for a moment. Harry gripped his wand, feeling his magic pulse in him, trying to break out and get to Tom — to punish him, to make him regret what he'd done… or maybe to protect him from the possible consequences. He didn't know, and this made nausea stir up, threatening to undo all his attempts at self-control.
"Why?" he spat out. He had seen Tom approaching the breaking point with the Muggle boy they had saved, but this? This was unmotivated. This was completely out of blue, and Harry could sense several threads holding his sanity together snapping broken.
His key to controlling and changing Tom lied in understanding. And if he couldn't understand him… if he couldn't predict and counter his actions…
"She was saying disgusting things about you to her friends," Tom twirled his own wand in his fingers, portraying a picture of utter disinterest. "Did you really think she wanted to improve her performance? Please. She wanted to stay alone with you. This girl has a very dirty mind."
"Stop this," Harry shook his head, his heart pounding somewhere in his throat. Jealousy. So jealousy was the motive? He could understand it. This was something he had already dealt with time and time again. But…
"Why?" he asked again. "Even if it's true, you had to realise it wouldn't go anywhere. She's my student. I'd never take advantage of that."
Tom's expression darkened, betraying the first visibly genuine emotion.
"Don't I know that?" he drawled. "Of course you wouldn't. Your moral principles and all that boring nonsense. Then again, you wouldn't recognise attraction if it smashed your head open."
The analogy sent chills travelling to the farthest parts of his body, and Harry shivered.
"I take it that our deal and my safety no longer concern you," he concluded quietly. Tom stiffened.
"On the contrary," he said bitingly. "Our deal is the only reason why I tried to save her. I didn't kill her, no matter how much she deserved it for saying those things. So technically, I fulfilled your requirements because I stopped despite being tempted. I won't ask for a reward in this case, you refraining from your suicidal tendencies would be more than enough."
Harry bit his tongue until he tasted blood, trying to keep himself from screaming. Myrtle moaned, and he focused on her again.
"I'll take her to the hospital wing," he said, his words unsteady. "Go to your common room. I don't want to see you."
"Of course," Tom smiled, but his smile was cruel. Challenging. It reminded Harry of Tom Riddle as he had been in the Chamber of Secrets, and his heart sank. "But I think there is something you should know first. She knows I was the one to push her. She saw me when I began to slow her fall. So you can bring her to the hospital wing and let her speak or you can Obliviate her first. It's your decision."
If Harry thought he had been cold before, it was nothing in comparison to the ice that slithered through his bones now. His lungs froze, unable to perform their primary function, and he nearly collapsed when the full implication of Tom's words hit him.
Obliviate. That book Tom had given him for this birthday, the one Harry felt obligated to read because it was a gift. But Tom hadn't known about Myrtle then — today was spontaneous. Which meant…
"You have been planning something like this from the start?" a choked, bitter laugh tore from Harry's chest, rattling it. "Were you preparing a test for me? To see how far I can be pushed?"
Tom tilted his head, observing him silently. Harry couldn't read his expression, couldn't read anything beyond the blankness.
"Are you ever satisfied?" he hissed. His magic finally snapped, uncoiling under the force of his adrenaline, and angry sparks shot up from the tip of his wand. "I am always on your side. I keep protecting you against Dumbledore's suspicions. I accepted the fact that you murdered a person, someone I cared about — I gave up everything for you, including my 'moral principles and all that boring nonsense', and it's still not enough! What else do you want from me? How else can I prove that I love you — will you want me to murder someone for you next time? Because I won't. My patience has limits, Tom, and if you push hard enough, you won't like the consequences."
"Are you threatening me?" Tom's voice was curious, but it had a dark edge that Harry hated with all his heart. So it was a test. Another one. And it seemed like they would never stop. Tom would never stop upping the stakes, testing his boundaries, and so they were condemned to repeat this cycle over and over again.
"I know what to threaten you with," Harry replied. The blinding fury began to fade, moulding into a bitter sense of defeat. "You know that I know it. I won't be your experiment. If you ever treat me like one again, I will leave, and trust me when I say that you will never find me."
The amusement, fake or genuine, slid down Tom's face like a mask. His eyes hardened and he changed his grip on his wand, as if preparing to keep him hostage if needed.
"You promised you would never leave me," he said dangerously, but Harry paid the deadly tone no mind.
"You promised you would try," he countered. "This," he looked at Myrtle, "this is not trying, Tom. This is you trying to manipulate me. And if you ever do it again, I won't bother with the rewards and punishments system. I will simply remove myself from your life as if I've never been a part of it in the first place. Do you understand?"
Tom's nostrils flared, and his composure seemed to finally shatter. Dark and stifling magic whirled around Harry, threatening but not quite touching him. Tom's chest was rising and falling with increased speed, and the cornered, wild look in his eyes betrayed every panicked emotion he was feeling.
Disgusted, Harry looked at Myrtle and pointed his wand at her.
"Rennervate," he uttered. Her eyes flew wide open, but before she could say a word, Harry added, "Obliviate."
Before Tom's book, he would have been incapable of erasing a specific memory so confidently. But he read it, he learned from it, and now he knew more about this charm than any average wizard. What a perfect accomplice he was — just the way Tom wanted to see him.
"I will bring her to the hospital wing," Harry repeated icily. "And you… get out of my sight."
The storm of Tom's magic quietened down the moment Harry had used the spell. He looked more human again, more like his Tom, and even as Harry's mind cringed away from what had happened, his heart twitched in longing.
…No. Not this time.
Tom took a hesitant step towards him before stopping. A shadow crossed his face, and when it was gone, his features grew smooth and even again.
Then he turned around and left. Harry waited for several more minutes, and as they passed, he lifted a newly unconscious Myrtle off the floor, carrying her towards the hospital wing.
One more crime he committed for Tom's sake. But it would be the last one. He wouldn't betray himself again.
He wanted to believe he wouldn't. He had to.
Myrtle was going to make a complete recovery. She didn't remember anything about the incident, and the tight anxious knot in Harry's chest loosened only after she confirmed it.
Tom was safe this time. Again.
The relief he felt was promptly replaced with self-disgust.
Tom was spinning out of control. Something had to happen for him to relapse like this, to blow hot and cold without any explanation. They had been making progress, but now Harry was at a loss, and his confusion and turmoil kept getting heated until they reached the boiling point.
They had to talk. Calmly and carefully. Tom might try to slither his way out of questions, but Harry knew which buttons to push.
He was the one to send a Patronus this time, asking Tom to meet him in the same place. He suspected that the Room of Requirement would always be tainted by the ugly memories now, but there was nowhere else they could have this discussion securely.
In the evening, Harry turned to Occlumency, trying to calm his mind enough for both of them to survive their meeting. Then he walked to the seventh floor.
Tom was already inside, his face blank and unreadable. That was probably to be expected, but the room itself looked strange. For some reason, it reminded him of the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry stiffened, slightly alarmed.
"Hi," he said carefully. "Why is—"
He didn't get a chance to finish his sentence because Tom suddenly pointed his wand at him.
"Imperio," he commanded. A comforting floating sensation instantly wiped away all his worries, and Harry swayed, feeling wonderfully light. His fears seemed ages away, but the sweet relief lasted only for a second. Then his mind was pushing back furiously, tearing through the artificial fog, and the awareness flooded back in, bringing an even stronger sense of agitation with it.
Tom had… Tom had tried to use the Imperius Curse against him. In Hogwarts. To compel him to do… what?
Tom lowered his wand, and Harry had to struggle to keep his features relaxed. His heart was slamming wildly against his ribcage, his hands and his legs trembling, but he forced himself to stand still, waiting to hear what Tom wanted. Waiting and dreading it.
At least Tom didn't look emotionless now. A myriad of feelings was going through his face, from fear to eagerness to wonder — Harry hadn't witnessed such openness in him for what felt like years now.
Tom cleared his throat in a very uncharacteristic expression of hesitancy, and then he whispered, "Kiss me."
Harry froze. The shock and disbelief hit him with the force that felt staggering, and he barely managed to keep his features still, to conceal the feelings that were itching to plaster themselves across his face.
"Kiss me," Tom repeated, his voice hoarse, and Harry realised he couldn't do nothing for much longer. Slowly, buying himself time, he moved towards Tom, frantically trying to bring his thoughts to order. Something was swelling, burning, hissing under his skin, clogging his throat and his chest, exploding in his stomach.
Stupor. Denial. Shock. And something less prominent, almost foreign, that felt a little like elation.
It had been his smell in Tom's Amortentia. He was still Tom's focus. Nothing changed.
But then these strange dark thoughts were pushed down by a stronger current of incredulity, and Harry stopped next to Tom, unable to comprehend that this was truly happening.
Tom looked flustered and excited. His pupils were blown wide, his cheeks burning scarlet, and his eyes were glistening with such raw anticipation that Harry found it hard to remain unaffected.
Tom's lips parted at his proximity, probably expecting to be kissed, and Harry leaned closer.
"What the hell are you doing?" he breathed out right into those waiting lips, his words steely. Tom blinked, looking dazed, still too far gone in his expectations, but when no kiss followed, the first sparks of awareness began to flicker in his gaze.
Harry saw the exact moment the realisation crashed because Tom suddenly took a panicked, stumbling step back. His blush paled before flaring even brighter, only this time, it screamed of mortification, not desire.
"I… but how…" Tom backed away, gasping. "It's not… I didn't mean to—"
He was obviously unable to formulate a coherent sentence. Harry still waited, numb with astonishment yet determined, but Tom didn't try to say anything again. Instead, he gave him the last half-horrified look before turning and fleeing, not even bothering to shut the door close.
Harry stared after him as his thoughts finally began to re-arrange themselves, slowly swirling into a complete, clear picture.
A part of him felt stunned. A part of him felt like it'd always known.
What was he supposed to do with it?
. .tragedies, thank you, I'm happy you liked the chapter!) And Tom is definitely thrilled at Harry being nearby all the time now, but like you said, he's possessive as hell, so he can't quite cope with him paying attention to others, even if he's trying :D
Randomly Talented, haha, as you can see, you were absolutely right, Tom did want to ask for something more physical as his reward :D I think the tags aren't reflected on this site, I'll have to re-upload the first chapter with notes, but on AO3, there is an 'underage' tag. So Tom's age isn't stopping him from pursuing Harry in romantic ways. And yes, their relationship is truly the embodiment of unhealthiness.
BankaiMinazuki, thank you, I'm so glad you're enjoying it, and sorry for such a long wait!
Stregian, thanks so much for your kind words! I'm really flattered you think my portrayal is authentic. I have an avid interest in true crime programs, so my knowledge of psychopaths was largely shaped by them. Then I read a few articles out of curiosity, and I really think that Tom Riddle meets many of such criteria. It's very challenging and interesting to explore him like this. Thank you for book recommendation, I'll definitely check it out! You are right in your assessment, of course - Tom is working hard on countering Harry's punishments, and soon enough, he's going to succeed.
wow, ah, thank you! I'm really glad you liked that scene, it was creepy but interesting to write it.
NikkiSqrl, thank you! I hope you'll keep enjoying this story))
SoberMoped, thanks! Hope you enjoyed this new chapter as well.
Flower15, thank you so much for your lovely words, I'm so pleases to hear you're enjoying this!
Noulis, thank you for your compliments, it means a lot to me! And I'm glad you liked Harry's plan. Like another reader said, he tried to out-crazy Tom here and he succeeded. Tom's empathy is a very flawed thing, and Harry's using what he can of it.
Frost Merry Darkness Luver, yes, Harry has a MoD status here.
Chii-pet, thank you, I really appreciated your comment!) The story isn't marked as complete, I think there will be about 9 chapters in total. Hope you'll enjoy them!
Ruthnechan, thank you for your comment — what you described is exactly what I wanted to portray! Their relationship is twisted, unhealthy, and with very dark tones, but they love each other, even though they keep hurting each other terribly. They are mutually possessive of one another because both are very flawed, and the more Harry spends time in this world, the more lost he becomes in his obsession and blinding love for Tom. That's bound to bring some disasters :D
Antares Riddle Potter, thank you! 3