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Chapter Two—The Sacred Hunt

Harry sighed as he leaned against the back of his cupboard. It was far too small for him now, but the day was so hot that the shade was almost welcome. Aunt Petunia had had him working in the garden until almost noon, and then Harry had convinced her he was on the brink of collapse and one of the neighbors might say something.

Of course, his throat still ached, dry, and his stomach still rumbled, empty. But those were things he was used to. He wasn't used to heatstroke.

Distantly, he heard someone knock on the door, heard an unfamiliar voice say something, heard Aunt Petunia's shrill reply. But he didn't expect those things to have anything to do with him. He shut his eyes and groped in his mind after the dream he'd had last night.

Sometimes Harry almost thought he could remember his parents.

He knew from stray comments that Aunt Petunia had dropped that his mum's name had been Lily, and she had had green eyes like his and red hair. Harry knew nothing about his father except that he was supposedly a drunk.

But in the dream, his parents were strong and kind, and they had been holding him. His father, who had dark hair and glasses like Harry, had bent down and hugged them and whispered, "Lily, get him to Serious." Harry, now that he was awake, wondered what kind of place Serious was.

His mum had shaken her head. "No, darling. Come with me, run—"

And then there had been a horrible noise like the banging of drums, but Harry had lost the rest of the dream because Dudley had woken him up leaping down the stairs. He didn't know if the drums were really part of the dream or not.


Harry jumped as the door of the cupboard went flying open. Aunt Petunia loomed beyond it, staring at him with such hatred that Harry immediately assumed Dudley had made up another story about Harry hurting him.

He was just opening his mouth to deny it when she snapped, "There's a freak here to see you."

Harry stood up and left the cupboard uncertainly. He didn't really know what she could mean. Harry was a freak because he had no parents, and sometimes strange things happened around him. Why would someone else who was also an orphan come and visit him? Was there a Society of Freaks or something?

Was this someone from an orphanage?

Harry's throat and stomach were both clenching with new sensations as he walked out into the drawing room and saw the man sitting there on the chair where Uncle Vernon usually sat to watch the telly. He stopped. The man didn't look at all like someone Aunt Petunia would have thought was a freak. He had neat hair and clean nails and wore a suit.

Harry glanced over his shoulder, but Aunt Petunia had gone back into the kitchen. Harry thought she was almost running. He turned to the man on the couch and opened his mouth.

"Just a moment," said the man, and pulled out a white stick from his sleeve. Harry blinked at it. He blinked even harder when the man swept the stick through the air, seemed to listen intently for a moment, and then nodded and put it away.

"Now we can speak freely," said the man, and smiled at him. "My name is Professor Thomas Riddle. I know that you probably already know about Hogwarts, but I'm from the Fortius Academy." He paused.

He seemed to expect an answer. Harry obliged. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Riddle blinked and stared at him. Then he said, "I mean that there are two different schools of magic that might compete for your attendance, Mr. Potter."

Harry snorted and folded his arms. Riddle was kind of impressive, true, but Harry had dealt with impressive teachers before. All of them backed away from him when it turned out that the Dursleys denied his abuse. Harry had never found someone who would persist beyond that initial denial. And this was a silly prank. Or maybe a means of luring him away from the Dursleys' abuse and doing some of the things people discussed in dark voices at his primary school. "I'm going to Stonewall. I know that. That's all the Dursleys will pay for."

Riddle studied him in silence for a second. Harry shifted his weight. This wasn't going exactly as he'd thought it would. "You can get up and walk out any second now," he added. "And tell whoever put you up to this that it didn't work."

"Do you know of magic, Harry?"

"My name is Potter to you, Riddle."

For some reason, that made an odd smile cross Riddle's face. He leaned back in his chair, flung one leg over the other, and said, "I imagine that whoever put you here didn't think your relatives would deny the existence of magic altogether. They thought they would abuse you and make you all the more relieved to escape into a magical world, no matter how you might be treated there."

Harry stared at him. "You're still on about magic? I don't know a lot, but I know magic doesn't exist."

"No, you don't know a lot," Riddle agreed coolly. "Listen to me, Harry Potter. You are magical. A wizard. The child of a wizard and a witch—"

"Aunt Petunia's said my mum was a witch sometimes, but that's not what she meant."

"I imagine she would know almost nothing about it. And both I and the people who put you here overestimated her desire to know more about magic."

"Stop talking about who put me here. I know my uncle and aunt had to take me in because they were my only living relatives. And I came here after my parents died in a car crash. That's the way it is."

"Ah, I see. You are fighting so hard against what I am saying because that is the best way to protect yourself from getting false hope up."

Harry clenched his hands very hard behind his folded arms. But he didn't let his expression change. Say that Riddle did understand some of what it was like. Say he had even come to invite Harry to a special kind of school. It wouldn't matter, in the end. The Dursleys would never pay for something like that, and if Riddle had targeted him because he thought Harry's family was rich, he'd be disappointed.

"Have strange things never happened around you?" Riddle continued in a quieter voice still. "You might have moved things without touching them, or forced animals to obey you, or altered the color of someone's hair or clothes—"

"How did you hear about that?" Harry took a long step back. Now he was wondering if Riddle was from a hospital instead of a school.

"Ah, yes. That's a common manifestation of accidental magic." Riddle stood slowly. "Listen, child. This is a wand. I'm going to hand it to you, and I want you to tell me what you feel." He held out the white stick that he'd used to make the gesture earlier.

Harry took it slowly. And nearly dropped it. It wasn't the weight of it, which wasn't so heavy even though he wasn't used to it. It was the thrumming warmth that struck up his arm towards his heart.

"What do you feel?" Riddle prompted.

Harry glared at him. "Wood."

This one is going to be difficult.

Tom had to admit he was relieved, though. He had arrived just in time. Whoever had left Potter here—probably Malfoy, knowing him—had chosen the Muggle guardians well. Another month, and Potter might have been primed to leave the Muggle world behind entirely, believe the wizards who would tell him that he was dirty because of his Muggleborn mother but he could make up for it, and embrace the pureblood prejudices without looking back.

It was a common tactic of the purebloods, at least with half-blood orphans: abandon them in the Muggle world and then swoop in to the "rescue." Tell them that the harder they worked, the more they attempted to embrace the pureblood nonsense, the closer they would come to achieving the "ideal" of someone raised in the magical world. The half-bloods usually swallowed it whole. There was no fanatic like a convert.

And those half-bloods married purebloods and reared their children in the same way and went around cringing and apologizing for their power, thinking it a fluke.

Rather than their rightful inheritance, Tom thought, and smiled at Potter. "More than that, I think, Mr. Potter, from the way you nearly dropped it."

Potter snorted. "If magic is real, then fine. I wish for you to go away." He brandished the wand at Tom.

A fast flow of magic seized Tom around the middle and bore him back against the couch on the other side of the room. Tom went with it, he was so startled. He found himself in a sitting position before he could blink.

Across the room, Potter dropped his wand as if it was on fire and backed away from it, his eyes wide and his breathing unsteady.

Tom cleared his throat and adjusted the hang of his suit. He had to admit, he hadn't expected that, but it might have done more good than hours of argument. Potter was trembling like a rabbit and staring at the wand, but when he lifted his eyes to Tom's, they burned with the kind of excitement that Tom remembered seeing in himself.

Of course, Tom had expected him to be powerful, but there was the fact that he had achieved that kind of result with Tom's wand…

Later, Tom told himself, and raised his eyebrows at Potter. "Beginning to believe me now?"

Potter nodded to the wand. "You pick it up and do some magic. You could have pretended to go along with going away because you knew I didn't believe you."

Tom clucked his tongue as he walked forwards and picked up his wand, and ignored the spark of gladness that leaped through him at having it reunited with him. "You are indeed, suspicious, aren't you, Mr. Potter?"

"Oh, yeah, everyone tells me that all the time."

Tom raised curious brows before he realized what Potter likely meant. From the mulish look on the boy's face, his relatives, and other people, had probably spread tales about him being a criminal or involved in adjacent activities.

Tom simply nodded and said, "Well, then I will perform a bit of magic I don't think you can take as a joke." He pointed his wand at the low table in the middle of the drawing room and wordlessly Transfigured it into a lion.

Potter's eyes were as wide as the lion's when Tom glanced at him. Tom studied him for a second, and said quietly, "I did not Transfigure it to eat you."

Potter nodded, then glanced away, his jaw hard as glass. Tom knew that perhaps it was unnerving for Potter to have Tom anticipate his responses so well, but this boy was much like Tom had once been, despite living with his blood family.

And there was the matter of his ability to perform a powerful Banishment Charm with Tom's wand.

Again, though, that would have to wait. Tom Transfigured the lion back into a table despite his temptation to let it claw at the Dursleys' furniture. "And so you believe me now when I say that you've been invited to a magical school, Mr. Potter?"

"But why? It's not like my marks are the best."

"All magical children receive training in a magical school," Tom said patiently. "However, there are two for Britain. Hogwarts, which is the school your parents attended, and Fortius Academy, my school, which I hope you'll attend."

"Let's pretend for a second that I have the money to do either. Why should I go to yours?"

Tom blinked again, then sighed. It was his own fault for forgetting how little Potter knew. "Let us sit down, Harry. Please," he added, when he saw the way the young man stared at him.

After a grudging moment, Harry nodded and did as he asked, perching on the edge of a chair as if he didn't get to sit there very often. Intense green eyes watched Tom from beneath a mop of shaggy black hair that would have marked him as a Potter to any magical person with eyes. In fact, Tom would be surprised if Lucius didn't have spies watching the house.

Not that there had been any today, but they might still come by on a regular basis.

"You know nothing of the truth about how your parents died," Tom checked.

"No. It wasn't a car crash."

The boy was trying to sound firm, but his voice wavered. Tom shook his head anyway. "No," he said. "It wasn't. There is a certain amount of prejudice in our world, Harry—"

"What a surprise."

Tom found himself appreciating the boy's sense of humor, but he did raise his eyebrows this time, and Harry subsided. "Thank you. Now, we call non-magical people like your relatives Muggles. I'm sure you've discovered throughout your ten years in this world that some people are polite, some discourteous, some treat you roughly and some kindly."

"Not much of that last," Harry muttered, but he nodded.

"Well, there are magical people who can have Muggle parents. The causes of that are disputed, but it happens on a regular basis. They are called Muggleborns in our world. When they enter that world, they face people who grew up there, and some of those people hate them for coming from outside the magical world."

Harry nodded. "And my mum—she must have been Muggleborn, right? If I'm really related to the Dursleys."

A note of doubt had crept into his voice. Tom did his best to smile reassuringly. "You are. Don't doubt that."

"Wish I could." Harry folded his arms and looked unhappy.

"Your relatives cannot prevent you from going to a magical school, and they lied about your parents' deaths," Tom continued. He would have to address Harry's resentment towards Muggles at some point, but it didn't have to be right now. "Your father, James Potter, was what is called a pureblood, a magical person born from a long magical lineage."

"And one of the people who are usually prejudiced gits?"

"The prejudice was not as bad in his time as it is now," Tom said. "At least, when he attended Hogwarts. He and your mother fell in love. They married, and had you. But there were people who had tried to persuade your father to marry a pureblood instead, and people who resented your mother for rejecting—let us say, offers they'd made her. Still others who resented her for being more brilliant and more magically powerful than several purebloods combined, which undermined the lies they were trying to spread about only purebloods having powerful magic.

"I am sorry, Harry, but your parents were murdered for loving and marrying each other, for having a half-blood child. They were brought down in a magical rite referred to as a Sacred Hunt." Tom hesitated, but the wideness of Harry's eyes urged him on. "A literal hunt, in which the magic of the victims is harvested for the benefit of the killers. They were butchered like deer."

Perhaps I didn't have to that blunt, Tom thought, as he watched Harry make a wounded noise and bend over as if someone had punched him in the chest. Tom hesitated, then stood up and walked over to put a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"Did they go to prison?" Harry whispered. "The ones who did this?"

Tom shook his head. "I'm sorry, but they didn't. It was known to the people who found the remains afterwards what had happened, but there was supposedly no sign of the criminals, and the Sacred Hunt isn't technically illegal as long as at least one of the victims is Muggleborn."

Harry said nothing for long seconds. Tom chided himself again for saying it like that. He did believe that Harry deserved the truth, and most of the other professors he had sent would have softened it too much, but there had to be a middle path—

Then Harry snapped his head up. "I hate them," he said.

"The ones who murdered your parents?"

Harry nodded, his eyes fierce and burning harder now than when he'd talked about the Muggles he lived with. "And purebloods. I want them to suffer. I want to take everything away from them and laugh about it." He gripped his knees as if they were wands and then asked abruptly, "How did I survive?"

"Your mother created a sacrificial magical protection that depended on her being—killed in exactly the way it happened," Tom said. "Two of your parents' friends found you under that ward after the Hunt was done. The killers had departed, but probably intended to come back for you later." He hesitated again.

"Tell me, Riddle. Tell me everything."

Tom nodded. There might have been a chance of a middle path, but now he had to live with the decision he'd made. "You don't have to worry about your parents' killers not suffering, or getting away with what they did. Your parents' friends delivered you to someone whom they thought would protect you, and then they tracked down the killers and slaughtered them."

Harry's mouth dropped open a little. Then he said, "Who—who was the person they gave me to? And what happened to my parents' friends? Who were they? Where are they now?"

"The person they gave you to was Albus Dumbledore, then then-Headmaster of Hogwarts," Tom said quietly. "He, unfortunately, was a reformer who thought that a civil war would be the worst of all possible outcomes, and tried to pacify the purebloods as much as possible. It's one reason that Hogwarts is now overrun with their lies, although Dumbledore is no longer in the Headmaster's position. He saw you as an innocent victim—which you were, of course—and also as a possible means of reconciliation between the two sides, if the scale was, ah, balanced by your parents' deaths and then the deaths of their killers. He publicized what had happened, and then he delivered you to the Minister for Magic."

"I don't have any Potter relatives?"

Tom shook his head. "Not in the immediate family, and once you were in the Minister's hands, he successfully kept you away from some of the people who might have been able to claim you on the basis of more distant kinship. Besides, well, your guardian was to have been one of your parents' friends, and he—was unavailable."

"They're dead, aren't they? For what they did."

"Actually, no," Tom said, and was pleased with the nature of his news, despite the awfulness of it, when Harry's eyes lit up again. "The man who was supposed to have become your guardian, Sirius Black, is a pureblood, albeit one who had rejected everything his family taught him. By their own laws, they were forbidden to imprison him or kill him. They ordered his house arrest, however, and so he hasn't been seen in public for ten years. The chance that he will be able to leave or escape is extremely unlikely."

Harry swallowed and nodded. "And the other one?"

"His name is Remus Lupin. A half-blood, so, yes, they would have killed him. But he—well, werewolves are real in our world, Harry. Three nights after your parents' deaths was a full moon. Lupin transformed and unleashed himself on the purebloods. He had never done anything like that before, from the information I was able to gather. He had been too afraid to do so, one of the rare werewolves who didn't grow up around others of their kind and thus tried to reject instead of embrace the wolf. But he came out of that night having embraced it. That was clear enough in his eyes when the photographs of him taken after that slaughter came out."

"They captured him? Then why is he free?"

Tom shook his head. "He showed himself long enough to promise that if harm came to you or Black, he would find a way to bite a child from every pureblood family in Britain. They believed him. It's a rare werewolf who's been trained as a wizard, and because of his magic, once he embraced the wolf, he could transform at any time, not just the full moon. He made himself into the demon of their worst nightmares. So the Minister for Magic brought you here, and told people you were being raised by blood kin. Which," Tom drawled, "is technically true."

Harry sat still for long moments. Then he asked, "Where is Lupin now?"

"Abroad," Tom said. "At least, I think so. I know they haven't captured him, despite years of searching, and I believe they would have if he was still in Britain. And if he had been in the country, he probably would have known that you were being abused here."

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it. Tom watched him, his understanding of Harry's struggle aching in him. Harry wanted to deny being abused, but at the same time, he thought doing so would convince Tom to leave him here.

"I want to go to your school," Harry finally said, in a small voice. "But I still don't know how I'm going to afford it."

"The Potters had money, like many pureblood families," Tom said gently. "You're the last member of that lineage, Harry. You can use that money to pay for any school you want. I'll take you to Diagon Alley myself."

"Diagon Alley?"

"The primary wizarding district of shops and the like. In London."

Harry bit his lip and nodded. Then he said, "Does it—I mean, I feel better knowing that—" He looked at the floor. "I still want to punish people. Does that make me a bad person?"

"No," Tom said. "Believe me, Harry, I understand exactly what you are talking about."

Harry looked up at him, and his eyes had changed again. There was a look in them that made Tom suspect he was seeing the boy who had pitted himself against his relatives to survive their abuse, to deal with it.

"That's part of the purpose of your school, isn't it?" Harry whispered. "So we can punish the bad people?"

"It is," Tom said. "But I must emphasize, Harry, that I get along by pretending to accept magically weak students and students no one cares about. They would care about you if they knew I was here. You must not show your magical strength in public, outside the grounds of the school."

Harry nodded, but he looked worried now. "If they would care about you visiting me, then how are we going to keep them away after you leave?"

We. Tom savored the word, and held out his hand.

"I never intended to leave you here," he said. "Mr. Potter, would you consent to a kidnapping to the grounds of Fortius Academy?"

Harry laughed, a sound that Tom suspected he had made all too seldom in his life, and took Tom's hand.

Yes, Tom exulted privately.