Thank you again for all the reviews! This is the last chapter of His Darkest Devotion. Thank you for your company on this long journey. I hope you enjoyed it.
Minerva touched her head and frowned a little. She could recall some dreams so strange that she wasn't sure she should even keep trying to remember them. Albus saving the world? Minister Riddle and Harry holding her prisoner and feeding her to—
Minerva shook her head briskly. No, there was no point in remembering dreams like that. She had enough to do in the regular, workaday, waking world.
And speaking of which…
"You wanted to see me, Headmistress?"
Minerva smiled at Peter as he stepped into her office, looking almost as nervous as he had been when she'd called him to her office as a student for detention. "Yes, Professor Pettigrew. Please shut the door behind you. I wanted to discuss a promotion for you."
Peter blinked as he sat down in one of the comfortable but ordinary chairs Minerva preferred to the overblown purple monstrosities Albus had usually had his guests sit in. "Doing what, Headmistress?'
"I know that you're happy teaching the mid-year levels of Transfiguration and have no desire to teach NEWT classes." Minerva held her chuckle to herself as Peter frantically shook his head. She actually thought he would be perfectly competent at the theory and even the process of human Transfiguration, given his rat form, but she knew that he didn't want to deal with the struggles and drama surrounding the upper-year students. "So I'll be hiring someone new for that. But I do need a Deputy Headmaster, and I've held off on promoting one too long."
Peter's eyes widened. "But I thought Filius was in that position?"
"Temporarily, while I got more comfortable in my position as Headmistress. But he's informed me that he'll want to retire in a year or two, and I need someone more long-lasting, someone who will hopefully become Headmaster or Headmistress after me."
Peter looked overwhelmed. Minerva waited, but hopefully. She did think that Peter would be good at it, and what qualities he lacked, he could grow into with time. He was humble, and that was something no one could really teach someone else and which was sorely needed for positions of this much power. And he could flourish now, with Albus gone, in a way that he'd never been able to when a Headmaster was in charge who disapproved of everything Peter did because Peter hadn't joined his Order of the Phoenix.
Minerva could be making the wrong choice. But she didn't think so.
"I—this is unexpected," Peter said at last. "I'd really like to, but are you sure there isn't someone else you'd rather have? Or did everyone else refuse like Filius did?"
His gaze was steady, sharp in a way that Minerva hadn't seen before. I'm used to being last choice, it said. It's all right to say it if I am.
"Filius was my first choice because I thought he was longing to be Headmaster, and he deserved a reward for all his work," Minerva said. "He also always seemed timeless to me, certainly likely to outlast me at Hogwarts. But you're the first one I've asked after him, Peter. And please call me Minerva, won't you? We're still colleagues, and we're going to be working more closely than ever if you become my Deputy Headmaster."
A smile flashed across Peter's face. "All right, Minerva. Then, yes, I accept."
Minerva hoped that she concealed her sigh of relief in finally being able to have a second who planned to stay, but form Peter's deepening smile, she probably didn't. "Good, then your first task is to take on all this bloody paperwork I hate."
Peter laughed. "Ah, so that's the main reason you wanted me as Deputy Headmaster. My neat handwriting."
"It certainly didn't hurt," Minerva admitted shamelessly. "Come on, Deputy Headmaster Pettigrew, let's start our work."
Peter sat back in his chair with a long sigh. Minerva had introduced him as Deputy Headmaster at dinner that evening, and as far as he could tell, the applause had been genuine from both staff and students. Filius had made it a point to tell Peter how delighted he was to be able to lay down the work, which he'd been finding hard to handle on top of being Head of Ravenclaw and Charms Professor.
Apparently, Minerva was appointing someone else to be Head of Gryffindor, too. Long years in three positions had taught her that she didn't want someone else to wear three hats for any amount of time if they didn't have to.
There was a twitch from his pocket. Peter took out the Elder Wand, put it on the table, and stared at it.
It rolled a little towards him and lay there. It didn't move, but Peter could feel its steady, patient attention.
"Is this going to be enough for you?" Peter asked it. "Just undoing Transfiguration mistakes, casting charms to ease Minerva's way, and doing all the little basic household tasks that most wands do?"
The Elder Wand sent a spark of contentment up his arm. Peter started. He didn't know how it could do that, when it was lying on the table, but somehow, it had.
"Okay," Peter said slowly. He found he couldn't contain his smile. Perhaps this was the wand's well-deserved retirement.
For him, he felt as though his life was just beginning.
Especially since Gringotts had sent him a letter explaining that the "theft" of the wand was basically allowed since he'd been traveling with a phoenix and saving the world, but that it had better not happen again.
Peter could live with that.
"You're sure that you want to leave, Sirius? You know that Riddle's people have been searching and they haven't found any sign of Snape or Remus."
"I know. But I have to." Sirius didn't look up from where he was sliding packages of food under Preservation Charms into his trunk. He'd shrink that and carry it with him, along with multiple other trunks. He had no idea how long he might have to search or where he would go, and he intended to have as much as he needed so he wouldn't have to abandon the trail in the middle. "Remus needs me."
"Even if you find him, what happens if you can't get him to accept you as his soulmate?"
"Then at least I'll be with him," Sirius said, and looked up at James, who was standing in the doorway of the flat's kitchen, eyeing the packages flying into the trunks. "It's not much, but at least we can share our lives. The way we always should have."
James winced. Sirius suspected it wasn't because of anything Sirius had said, but what he was thinking about Harry and Riddle, and the reasons they hadn't spent most of their lives together.
"And you think you can get past any wards or other guards that Snape has on him?"
"I think I have to at least try. Come on, James. What's the real reason that you're doing this? You can't possibly think I'm just going to leave Remus there." Wherever "there" is.
James licked his lips. "I think—it feels like you're my only ally against Riddle, Sirius. Harry's gone over to him entirely. Lily doesn't like him, but she isn't even trying to work against him anymore, except by doing things like spreading the truth about Muggleborns' academic achievements and how they aren't any lesser than purebloods'."
Sirius sighed, stood up, and reached over to take James by the shoulders. James stared at him and blinked a little. For an instant, Sirius felt as if they were back in Hogwarts, planning some prank that they would whisper about first, and then try to get Remus and Peter involved in.
Peter. That was someone else Sirius should write to, just because he needed to make some apologies, and to see what Peter would say.
They weren't in Hogwarts, and the moment passed. Sirius squeezed James's shoulders and let go. "I don't see what there is to set yourself against," he said softly. "You know that Riddle's going to retire from politics soon. You know that if he becomes immortal, he'll do it with Harry, and not alone. You know that he isn't a Dark Lord the way Dumbledore thought, and he isn't starting a war. What do you need to struggle against?"
"I need—I need to make it up to Harry."
"What up to Harry?"
"Talking about him the way I did in the past. If I can show him that I love him enough, that I didn't mean it when I said that I wished he hadn't been born, then maybe he'll reject Riddle."
Sirius sighed and rubbed one finger across his nose. "That isn't going to happen."
"You don't know that, though. Harry lived twenty-four years without him. He was happy enough. If—"
"Something for you to think about, James," Sirius interrupted. "Has it occurred to you that out of all the people you were closest to, or the people you used to be close to, you're the only one who got your soulmate?"
James paused. A tension that hadn't been there before flowed into him. "What do you mean?"
"You have Lily," Sirius said softly. "Peter was born with that black-edged mark, so he had no chance to meet the soulmate who died before he was born. Remus rejected me." He breathed through the center of the pain in his chest and kept talking, because he thought James really needed to hear this. "Albus rejected his soulmate. You would have kept Harry from his. Why do you get your soulmate and no one else gets theirs?"
"Wait. I never—I never thought like that."
"You wouldn't give up Lily for anyone, would you? But you thought it was appropriate to deny your son his soulmate, and you want me to stay here instead of going to find Remus, and you followed Albus for a long time. It isn't your fault, exactly. I don't think you thought you could be the only happy one. But you keep being thoughtless about it. Accept that Harry has Riddle, and he's happy. And I'm going to try and be happy with Remus. If I can't, then at least I'll know it instead of telling myself that I would be happy if things were just different and I was with him."
James looked lost. Sirius clasped his shoulder. "I'll be an owl away," he said quietly. "And Riddle is lending me a few spells that will make the search easier. Maybe Moony and I will both be back before you know it, Prongs."
James finally summoned a smile. "I suppose it makes sense that you have to search."
Sirius ignored the fact that James obviously thought his search wouldn't succeed, and nodded to him. "I told Harry and Lily goodbye this morning. So…" He leaned forwards and hugged James, and James hugged him back, arms tight and desperate. Sirius pretended not to notice as he pulled away.
He picked up the pinch of Floo powder waiting for him and waved to James with one arm. "The Ministry!"
"Are you all right, Arthur?"
Physically, of course, Molly knew that he was. The pain pounding through the bond would have been different if he was sick or injured. But as her bondmate turned miserable eyes on her, Molly knew that this was a wound that wouldn't be purged unless she forced Arthur to talk about it.
"It's silly, really." Arthur smiled, while their bond turned a dusky grey and trembled.
"Come on, Arthur, sit down and tell me."
They were in the small flat that the Minister had found for them somewhere and given to them, although with Auror visits every week. Molly had been baking biscuits, but they were in the oven now, and she was growing increasingly worried about Arthur. He sat down next to her, but his movements were uncertain, and the bond grew darker and darker.
"Arthur? You're starting to frighten me."
Arthur took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair before he blurted out, "I don't know what to do with myself now that there's no war."
Molly sighed and took his hand. "We'll be left in a limbo for a little while longer, I should imagine, while Minister Riddle investigates what we did with the Order and if he's going to bring us up on charges. But after that, we can begin our lives again, and I certainly hope that you'll want to."
"Do you think he will bring us up on charges?"
"No, I don't think so, if only because it would upset Harry."
Arthur fussed with a teacup for long minutes before he spoke again. "I don't think that's a good thing, Mollywobbles. Not if it means that Riddle is acting more in accordance with personal feelings than ideas of justice."
Molly tried, but she couldn't smother the laughter in the bond even if she could muffle the sound with one hand. Arthur stared at her, a little shocked, but Molly thought he was more wounded.
"Arthur," Molly murmured, and drew him towards her, and gathered him in. There were strands of glinting white in his hair when the light caught it. Molly tucked away a private gladness that they wouldn't have to live on the run as they got older. "How many times did you go and get Alastor out of some trouble he got into with illegal magic or enchanting Muggle artifacts he wasn't supposed to enchant before we went on the run?"
"Well, that's different—"
"How many times did you get around the law that you wrote yourself? That you put loopholes in so that you could do things like enchant that ridiculous car?"
"It wasn't ridiculous, Molly," Arthur began to protest instinctively, and then paused and sighed. "You're saying that the Ministry's always been corrupt."
"Yes." Molly patted his shoulder with one hand and set up a puff of flour she hadn't realized was still on her fingers. "And while you might argue that your little indiscretions didn't hurt anything, you know some people would disagree, and say that it's more important for the Head of a department to be clean than it is for anyone. I don't think that allowing us to live here and not sending us to Azkaban is the worst thing that Riddle has done, or the worst thing that a sitting Minister has ever done. He might only be doing it because of Harry, but that's a better motivation than many he could have."
Arthur sighed out slowly. "I suppose you're right about that."
"Of course I am, dear." Molly patted his hand this time and stood up as the soft ward on the stove began to sing, warning her that the biscuits were done. "Now, come into the kitchen and help me eat these, there's a dear."
It took him days to even stir out of the hidden refuge that the phoenix fire had brought him to. And then Gellert stood in the center of the forest clearing and stared at nothingness, a thin blue cloak clasped around his shoulders.
He didn't know how he knew it, since the artificial bond that Albus had maintained with him using Amortentia had faded once the last potion dose did. But perhaps there was a sharper, darker outline around his soul-mark, or perhaps there was an echoing absence in the back of his mind that had always held the possibility of a connection before.
He didn't know. But he knew that Albus was dead.
Gellert took a few slow steps. The day was cloudy, the sun darting in and out of a grey haze high above. He heard a stream murmuring in the distance. Running water's sound was one of the things he had missed most in Nurmengard, strangely.
Gellert took a deep breath and let his cloak fall.
No one stormed into the clearing screaming for his arrest. Gellert was cautiously hopeful that no one would, at least as long as he did nothing obviously illegal or powerful that would draw attention.
He had no intention of going back to prison. He had no intention of conquering the world. Years and years by himself, staring at the black-edged mark on his wrist, had proven to him the consequences of that.
He would find a place where he could live quietly. Perhaps he would make a friend. Perhaps he would contemplate the past. Perhaps he would live a few years longer, or a decade.
And perhaps, someday, he would be able to mourn Albus, one of the few who would.
Harry rolled sleepily over. Tom had gone into the bathroom what felt like an hour ago, at least. Harry yawned and lifted his wrist to check on the watch, since his wand was on the bedside table and he felt too lazy to pull on their pooled magic to cast a Tempus Charm. Yeah, an hour.
He'd just begun to drift off again in pursuit of a dream he'd been chasing through his sleep, and it was an agony to stir and force himself back into wakefulness. But he did it, and smiled at Tom as he came to a step beside the bed. "Yeah?"
"I'd like to make love to you."
"Of course," Harry said, deciding his cock wasn't too tired after all to take an interest. He started to roll over, but Tom shook his head and drew his wand, casting a Lightening Charm on Harry and lifting him right off the bed.
Harry laughed softly and let his head loll onto Tom's shoulder. "Where are we going?"
"It occurred to me that I've never had you in the shower."
Harry swore softly, and Tom smiled against his ear, probably because he could feel Harry taking an interest down their bond as well as against his wrist. He carried Harry gently into the bathroom and cradled him while he used his wand to start the water flowing and probably adjust the temperature. Harry waved a hand and removed the pants he was wearing, folding his robes neatly next to the shower.
"It stuns me when you do that," Tom whispered against his ear.
Harry laughed despite himself, and snuggled further into Tom's arms as he obviously tried not to drop Harry. "Why? You're as capable of it as I am."
"I know. But for years, I did it by myself because I thought I would never find my soulmate. It's still a wonder to me that I have you."
Harry turned his head to nuzzle Tom's ear with his nose. "Now you do. Show me what your shower fantasies are like."
The bond curled around Harry was warmer than Tom's skin or the water as he set Harry gently on his feet under the spray. Harry tilted his head back and hummed happily as the water dashed across his skin. Tom caressed his shoulders for a long moment before casting one final spell that was probably meant to hold the temperature of the water constant and joining him.
Harry arched his head back to kiss Tom, and Tom bent down a little and adjusted the angle of his neck. Their lips brushed, and Harry smiled at the smugness that burst through the bond, Tom feeling Harry's intense enjoyment of the kiss and enjoying the enjoyment and enjoying Harry's enjoyment of Tom's enjoyment that flowed back and forth between them.
Tom traced his hands over Harry's shoulders, down the blades to the middle of his back, and murmured a soft spell without moving. Harry jerked a little as he felt himself loosen and stretch and grow slicker than the water could account for. Tom's lips seared the nape of his neck as he entered Harry slowly.
Harry squeezed down, and smiled to himself as Tom's pace stuttered. Then Harry decided he had no reason to keep that emotion private, so he fed it down the bond, and Tom bit his shoulder and thrust into him punishingly.
Should choose a different kind of punishment if you want me to suffer, Harry taunted, tilting his head further back and shivering with pleasure as Tom brushed against his prostate.
You're cheating. Say that aloud, and you would stutter.
Of course I'm cheating. Why shouldn't I? I have a wonderful soulmate who's not, at the moment, being that wonderful a lover, or surely I'd be forgetting how to speak—
Tom began to move faster, and Harry had to brace himself against the wall, swearing under his breath. He could feel Tom's smug grin against his shoulders, and he tightened his arse again and began to shove back against Tom's cock.
It took them a little while to find a rhythm, with the water pouring down around them and the floor and the walls both as slick as Harry, but in no time, Harry had his arm curled around Tom's neck, and Tom was half-slumped forwards, his hips snapping tight and regular thrusts, while his arms practically hung down Harry's chest.
I love you, Tom gasped down the bond.
I know you do, Harry said, and reveled in the fire of pure emotion that curled through him, joined by the feeling of the blue flames as Tom's fingers found the mark on his wrist. I love you, too.
Their pleasure chased and spiraled around itself, raising wings hotter than phoenix fire to fill the air around them with golden shadows. Harry smiled and twisted around, ignoring Tom's gasp of loss as he fell out of Harry's arse. It was only for a moment, until Harry could arrange himself against the wall facing his bondmate and guide Tom back in.
Tom hissed into his ear, the Parseltongue that Harry could return now if he wanted. Harry reached out and gripped Tom's wet shoulders with curved fingers, digging deeper as he listened to the words. "I love you. I'll never stop wanting you. I'll never stop—"
"I'll never leave you," Harry hissed back, knowing the message Tom wanted to hear, the one he wanted to pound into Harry's flesh with his flesh, his gripping nails, his words. "I'm here now. I'll never leave you." The Parseltongue words were easy to speak in a way that English ones wouldn't have been as Tom steadily pounded into him.
It didn't take a hand on his cock to make him come. It took Tom's eyes staring into his, their emotional bond draping coils around them as if it were a serpent made of magic, and Tom's fingers pressing tendon to bone in Harry's wrist where Tom refused to let go of his soul-mark.
Harry clawed wildly at Tom's shoulders as he crested, and Tom followed with something that sounded like a snarl with the buzzing undertone of a hiss. Tom turned his head and kissed Harry, tongue darting in and out of his mouth, and gathered him close as they slid to the floor of the shower together.
Harry curled closer and thought that he had honestly never been as happy in his life as he was right at this moment.
"What do you think it'll be like to be immortal?"
Tom turned his head towards Harry. They were sprawled across the bed together now, Harry dragged across Tom's chest with one hand clasped in Tom's. Tom had been idly amusing himself by closing and opening his other hand around Harry's soul-mark, making the blue flames spring up and then disappear again.
The bond was bright and smooth and cool, like turquoise seawater, and Tom tipped his head at Harry. "You have made your final choice, then."
"I can't get enough of this." It was the type of confession that might have sounded desperate in English, but Harry still sounded as calm as the bond implied. He was smiling at Tom, his eyes clear. "I still don't know about the idea of being alive forever, but being able to have as much of each other as we want, and then choose when we die? Yes, I want that."
Tom leaned close enough to rest his chin on top of Harry's head and close his eyes. "If you could know how much I love and want you."
"I do know. I can feel it."
"It still seems to me as if I don't tell you enough."
A surge of loneliness enveloped Tom. He could still remember those years, so many of them, when his only bond stretched to Nagini, and he'd hunted obsessively for his soulmate, and passed laws that would make it easier to find them, and tried to envision what kind of person they would be, and—
"I'm here, Tom."
Harry repeated the words mentally a moment later, and Tom rolled towards him and inhaled the warm scent rising off Harry's neck. Their bond flashed with heat and desire and love and passion, and then steadied.
I cannot have enough of this, Tom thought he thought, and then realized that he couldn't tell which one of their minds the thought had come from, so in tune were they.
Tom rose up on his elbows, turning so that Harry was arranged next to him, and smoothed his wild hair back. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too," Harry said, and sent the fire of emotions through the bond, since it seemed he would also have trouble putting what he was feeling into words.
Tom bent his head to kiss his soulmate, the only light in their bedroom the blue flames springing up from Harry's mark as he once again clasped it, and hoped immortality would always be like this, bright and clear and loving and fearless.