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Harry knocked firmly on the shiny door in the middle of what looked like a mile of walls, and waited. He hadn't really dared come here before because, well, they'd been at the wedding, and they would have seen his humiliation and presumably hated Diana's. But the quiet throb of power and confidence that had started in the middle of his chest after he had broken the ancient vow said that his first true friend wouldn't hate him.
He waited a moment, then knocked again.
A second later, the door swung open. Neville grinned at him and motioned him in. "Sorry, I had to be sure that I wasn't hearing things," he said. "When I get involved in the greenhouse, it can get hard to tell the difference between what I'm hoping is happening and what's happening in front of me."
Neville was another genius, although his field was Herbology, but Harry had never felt as awkward around him as he did around his family. Neville could be interested in other things, too, and he knew what it was like to deal with family mockery. His parents had been driven insane by a Death Eater attack when he was only a baby, and his grandmother had tried to bend Neville to her will and mold him in his father's image. She hadn't been impressed that Neville was succeeding in Herbology instead of something more oriented to battle magic.
That was, until Neville had collaborated with Professor Sprout to design a new kind of lily that could cover war-devastated areas and cleanse the magic in them, restoring the earth and the air to health. The accomplishment had earned Neville and Professor Sprout so many international accolades that Augusta Longbottom had had to take notice.
At the time, Harry had envied Neville even as he congratulated him, and carefully buried that envy deep. But now…
He didn't have to envy anyone, did he? Not when he had cracked Heller's Theorem, and had a whole new future waiting for him if he decided he wanted it.
Neville led Harry around the immense grounds to the greenhouses, where he captured two coiling nests of Devil's Snare and repotted them. Harry snorted a little as he watched. "You're mad, sometimes."
"Look who's talking."
Neville was watching him with a careful eye, Harry realized, waiting to see how he was going to react to the teasing. Harry shrugged a little. "That was Riddle's idea, not mine. I had no idea he was going to do that. But it doesn't matter anymore."
"Really?" Neville paused in the middle of sticking the seedling in a pot, and casually freed his wrist from the way the tendril tried to grab him. "Why is that?"
"When you're done, let's have a cup of tea, and I'll tell you all about it."
Neville nodded and went a little faster with the potting. Harry watched him for a few moments, then looked off into the distance, at the looming walls of Longbottom House. At least it no longer looked as gloomy as it had a few years ago, when Harry first visited. It had turned out that Neville's magic-eating lilies had cleansed some of the atmosphere of Dark magic lingering from the attack on his parents, too.
Why did I never tell him about my Arithmancy before this? He would have accepted it.
But Harry had too ready an answer for that, and he sighed softly to himself. He had never done it because he had wanted his family to be the first to hear about it. He had wanted his family to accept him. He had wanted his family to make much of him.
He knew now that he would never have that.
And although it saddened him, at least he knew that his place as an equal to Diana and Violet in his own mind didn't depend on their acceptance.
"Done." Neville walked up to him, dusting potting soil from his hands, and then glanced up and seemed to look properly into Harry's face. He froze.
"What?" Harry frowned at him. "Neville, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I just—I can see the magic around you." Neville's voice was low, his eyes focused on something that seemed to be above Harry's head, or maybe his shoulders. "You did something big. What was it? A ritual?"
"Of sorts." Harry smiled at him. "Come on, I'll tell you all about it when we've had a chance to sit down."
"You cracked Heller's Theorem."
Harry had only told Neville about shattering the ancient vow with equations, and Neville got it immediately. Harry smiled.
I wish I had known that I could have had his companionship on this road all along.
But he put aside the self-pitying moment that tried to come from that, and just said, "Yeah, I did. The fact that numbers can have different significations is something that I suspect other people thought of, but they just didn't put enough work into it."
Harry blinked. "Huh?"
"I don't think anyone has ever thought of this before. Arithmancers generally don't, you know. Numbers and equations have to be the same from formula to formula, or you would never be able to predict the future. You have to have something stable to stand on when you're dealing with something as fluid and unstable as the future."
Harry nodded slowly. "You might be right."
"Of course I am. Add to that that you'd have to keep assigning significations to larger and larger numbers because the smaller ones would only have one each, and…well, most of us have no association with a number like thirty thousand. It's just too large, and we don't use it often enough." Neville paused and eyed Harry. "But I bet you do."
Harry felt his ears flush. "I don't work with larger numbers most of the time either, Neville."
"That's not a no."
"Yes, yes, all right." Harry reached out and arranged a few of the bigger crumbs from the scones they'd eaten into the figure of 30,000. The magic stirred softly in his fingers at once. Funny how breaking the ancient vow hadn't exhausted him like turning Riddle into a donkey had yesterday.
Or not funny. It was always easier to work with the written numbers than work them entirely in his head, and they had also defended Harry from the magical backlash that had devastated Riddle.
"What's your association with the number?" Neville asked. He was staring in fascination, craning his neck.
"I thought once that it might be the amount of breaths I would need to take to really sink into mediation," Harry said. He had never been good at meditation, which was one reason why mastering Occlumency would probably be forever beyond his grasp. "And after that, the association stuck with me. So…"
He spread out his fingers over the crumbs and focused on the number they made, more in outline than fact; he hadn't enough crumbs to draw lines, only suggest the loops of the 3 and the curves of the 0's. But it was enough. The figure lit, and a contained bubble of shimmering air rose above the table.
"Enough air to give someone thirty thousand breaths," Harry said.
Neville looked genuinely awed. Harry felt himself flush harder, but, well, this kind of attention was something he had wanted. Something he would probably need to get used to, if he did publish the kind of work on Arithmancy that would be necessary to make Heller's Theorem known to other people.
Harry flicked his wand at the crumbs and blew them off the table, which made the bubble dissipate. "And that's how I broke the ancient vow."
"Gran said that you probably wanted to marry Riddle, but of course you didn't," Neville said, his eyes intent on Harry. "I would have known if you had a crush on him. Wouldn't I?"
"Yes," Harry said quietly. "I never shared this with you because I wanted to impress my family, Nev, that's all. But I really did dislike Riddle and feel that he shouldn't marry Diana, that he would just try to use her."
"Did you impress them?"
An echo of the anger that had driven Harry to the ritual circle came back to him, and he shook his head grimly. "No, they just said that it must have been a trick when I used Arithmancy in front of them and then my mother made it disappear with a Finite. They said it was an illusion."
"Wow," Neville said, staring at him. "I mean, I always thought it was strange that they insisted up and down that you weren't a genius and that being a genius was the most important thing, but I had no idea it was like that."
Harry sighed and leaned back against the couch, finally admitting it aloud. "Neither did I. I thought…if I could impress them, they would admire me and make me feel like part of the family." He reached for a biscuit still sitting on the tray and shrugged. "But maybe they're protecting themselves against the realization of what they did wrong and would have to feel if they admitted they were wrong. Maybe. I don't care enough to make sure."
"And Riddle? Why did he marry you?"
"Because he's a possessive, power-hungry madman." Harry rolled his eyes when Neville blinked. "No, I do mean that. He found out about my Arithmancy the day before the wedding, and it was like that drove him over the edge. He kissed me in the garden that night, and he suggested to Diana that they make an ancient vow just to—I don't know, catch me in the trap. He claimed he wanted to protect me and ensure my happiness, but I don't believe him."
"He probably thought it would be for life. He couldn't have had any idea that you would break the vow."
Harry frowned. "Don't tell me you're defending him, mate."
"No, of course not. I'm just saying that I don't think he could have anticipated you having the power to break an ancient vow. No one ever has before. So he must have tied himself to you sincerely thinking that that would be it for the rest of his life." Neville drank the last of his tea and put the cup down with a ringing sound. "So think about it. What would tempt him enough to do that?"
"Power," Harry murmured. "And magic. He said himself that he cared more about magic than power, and that he found me breaking the laws of magic fascinating."
"And he was planning to marry Diana for power, of course." Neville made a face. "Ugh. I don't think you should accept him back, mate—"
"I definitely wasn't planning on it."
"But you should still try to understand why he did it. Why abandon five years of planning, at least, and a woman who was sincerely in love with him, for a one-sided bond with a man who wasn't and whom he'd just learned the value of the day before?"
"I might ask him, if I think I'd get a sincere answer."
"You don't think he'd give you one?"
"No. He'd just keep on playing games and saying whatever he thought was most advantageous for him at the moment, not the truth."
"Can you make him think the truth is the most advantageous?"
Harry leaned back in his chair. "Come on, Nev, tell me what you're thinking. That I should forgive him? Give in and do whatever he wants?"
Neville snorted. "Of course not. But it is interesting that he gave up the position of power he could so easily have had. I know she's your sister, Harry, but he could have talked circles around Diana. He did talk circles around her. So why give that up for someone who was going to be suspicious of his every move?"
Harry shrugged. "If he ever dares come back, then maybe I'll ask him."
"No surprises from you today, Potter?"
Madam Madstrom was watching him with a suspicious eye as Harry came down the stairs that led up to his flat above the Magical Menagerie. Harry shook his head. "No, madam."
"Good. I don't want you getting married to someone else with a bloody ancient vow in the middle of the shop, scaring my customers."
Harry bit his tongue to avoid saying what he wanted to say about that, and just nodded, turning to begin his morning chore of cleaning out the snake tanks. He wasn't a Parselmouth like Riddle and Diana, but he could move slowly enough to do it without danger, and he didn't fear the snakes, which was an advantage over the last two assistants Madam Madstrom had tried to hire before him, apparently.
Madam Madstrom sat behind the counter, meanwhile, glaring at the door. She had bulging blue eyes and grey hair that she never bothered to comb, but she understood animals, and she could put a sweet face on for children. It was the main reason they sold so many Kneazle kittens and Crup puppies.
Harry hummed under his breath as he transferred a king cobra to a temporary holding cage and began sweeping his wand back and forth inside the tank, cleaning and straightening. If he wanted to use Arithmancy to make himself a Parselmouth, could he do that? He didn't understand the snake language from the inside, but then again, he had never transformed himself into a donkey, either, and he'd managed that on Riddle well enough.
If he wanted to do it, how would he do it?
He would probably have to start with an eight, since the graceful loops could be seen as a snake coiling back on itself. Or maybe seven? That might be better. He had had a book when he was younger that pictured the number seven as a serpent.
Such happy imaginings kept him going through cleaning most of the snake tanks, tossing those due to be fed their mice and rats, cleaning up beneath the few owl perches the Magical Menagerie had, and ducking the absent-minded efforts of a white pigeon named Lulu to make a nest in his hair. He mostly ignored the customers coming in and out. Madam Madstrom never had Harry deal with them unless she was spectacularly busy with a queue.
But he looked up when Madam Madstrom said sharply, "Here, you, I saw what you did."
Riddle was standing in the doorway of the shop, because of course he was. Harry swung towards him, feeling a slow, bubbling anger rising in the middle of his stomach. Riddle might have taken away his family and some of his independence for a few days, but he wouldn't let the maniac take his job.
"Yes, Tom Riddle, at your service," said Riddle, and gave Madam Madstrom a credible bow, although his eyes were on Harry.
"Is this your—husband, Harry?" Madam Madstrom asked it stiffly.
"No," Harry said. "I actually found a way to make sure that he wasn't."
Madam Madstrom nodded. "Then you have no reason to be here during working hours," she told Riddle sharply, and rose up from behind the counter, her hand going to the gnarled old walking stick that she only used on particularly cold days, or when an unwelcome customer entered the shop. "Leave, now."
"I was only hoping to beg a few minutes of Harry's time." Riddle smiled at her, although it didn't soften Madam Madstrom's cold gaze. "And take him for lunch."
"It's lunchtime?" Harry blinked and glanced at the ornate cuckoo clock Madam Madstrom kept on the wall above the door. He was surprised to note that it was after noon. The time usually passed more slowly on days when he didn't have puppies to play with, but he supposed his Arithmancy speculations had kept him occupied.
"You mean that you wouldn't have got lunch, Harry?"
Riddle's voice was sinking into cold territory that Harry already knew was dangerous. He wasn't going to let it intimidate him, though, or the possible threat to his boss force him into spending time with Riddle. He stared straight back and said, "I can go any time after eleven. I got caught up in working, that's all."
"You should go, Harry." Madam Madstrom was swinging her gaze back and forth from him to Riddle in the way that said she knew she hadn't got the whole story, but wanted it. "Wherever you want."
"I just fancy a cold sandwich in my flat this time."
"Then go get it. Be back at work after one."
Harry nodded and swung out of the shop, ignoring the way that Riddle immediately followed him. They didn't speak as they walked down the middle of Diagon Alley, although the few shoppers around at the moment paused and stared at them, presumably recognizing their faces from the paper.
So what if they do? Harry stuck his hands in his robe pockets and stared coldly back at some of the most intrepid gawkers, who turned their faces away when dosed with their own potion. Sooner or later I'm going to be famous for my Arithmancy. I'll learn to tolerate the staring.
That thought cheered him up enough to ignore Riddle entirely as he ordered a cheese sandwich from a shop that would make any combination. Riddle asked for something Harry didn't bother listening to. He stood off to the side as the sandwiches were made, and Riddle's eyes burned into him.
So what? Harry had the feeling that he'd probably have to have a conversation with Riddle in his flat, but that didn't matter. The really important thing was that Riddle couldn't intimidate him anymore, and had no hold over him.
As they were walking back up the middle of the alley, Riddle said under his breath, "You were meant for better things than shop assistant."
"Oh? Like the better things that led to you getting trapped in a diary for fifty years, or saw Diana humiliated in front of an enormous crowd?"
Riddle actually shut up, which Harry didn't understand. But he had something else to occupy his attention by the time they got back to the Magical Menagerie. Draco Malfoy was standing outside it and looking around as if waiting for someone.
Riddle? That would make sense. The Malfoys were the sort who made their niche as sycophantic followers, and Harry thought Riddle had had that kind of following in Slytherin. Harry had never bothered to pay that much attention.
But when they approached, Malfoy's eyes focused on Harry, which made no sense. He inclined his head a little and asked, "Could I speak with you, Mr. Potter?"
"No," Harry said instantly. This was a trap, it had to be. Malfoy had never been that courteous to him even when they weren't meeting as rivals on the Quidditch field.
Malfoy blinked. "Oh." Harry didn't think it was his imagination that his gaze strayed in Riddle's direction, looking for guidance.
"Five minutes, Draco," was all Riddle said. If that was an indication of how long he was going to stay, Harry was thrilled.
But instead, Riddle veered off in the direction of the apothecary across the way, and Malfoy turned to Harry with the air of someone working against a small time limit. "I want you to know that if you need anything, anything at all, you can come to me," he said in a rush.
Harry stared at him. "I can't imagine what you would be able to give me."
"Oh." Malfoy blinked at him again. "I—I wanted you to know that since you're married to Tom now, his allies are your allies."
"We're not married," Harry said, and reveled in the utterly dumbfounded look that came over Malfoy's face at the news.
"But we all saw you—"
"I broke through the ancient vow with Arithmancy magic of my own. Ask Tom to tell you all about it, I'm sure he'll be thrilled."
Malfoy looked as though he was choking to death on air. "I—I have to go," he said, and then turned and almost ran up the street. Harry snorted. No doubt he was disgusted that he had wasted even that much time on someone who no longer mattered in former-Slytherin politics. Or maybe he just wanted to be the first to tell everyone the news.
Harry turned around, and jumped when he saw Riddle right behind him. "What do you want?"
"I came to ask if there was anything I could do to make myself acceptable to you." Riddle looked him straight in the eye and didn't waver even when Harry scoffed, which Harry knew at one point would have made him scream with rage. "I know you don't care for power, or money. But I would like to do what you want, Harry."
"Since when do you care about that?"
"Since you made it clear that the ancient vow and someone antagonizing your family is not what you want."
"Wait, you thought I would want that? In the name of Merlin, why?"
"Once I saw that you had achieved great things with your Arithmancy but were keeping it quiet, I decided that you probably wanted to impress your family. And that meant having someone at your side who would be at your side, whom you could absolutely trust—"
Harry started laughing so hard that he almost dropped his sandwich. "I can't trust you, Riddle. You acted against my interests. You ensured that everyone was humiliated at that wedding, including me. You don't care about me, only about my magic."
"How could I not care about you when you are the one who contains that magic?"
"But I'm more than that, and those were the interests you ignored when you made your stupid ancient vow."
"And now I am trying to understand them." Riddle stepped insistently closer. "Tell me what you want, what you need. And I'll fulfill it."
Harry eyed him. Riddle appeared sincere, but he had projected that apparent sincerity for years around Diana, too, and look where it had got her, and everyone else who had thought Riddle really wanted to marry her.
All right. He would call Riddle's bluff.
"I would need complete honesty and vulnerability from you," Harry said. "You've seen me at my weakest now, in front of my family, and almost breaking down in fucking tears. You'd have to show me the same. Who you really are, what you really feel behind all those fronts you put up. And I know you can't do it, Riddle. You're too good at lying. You'd never tell me the truth."
Riddle froze in a way that reminded Harry of the king cobra in the Magical Menagerie when it saw a fat mouse. "And this would be all you would require from me?" he breathed.
"It's a pretty big all, and one that I know you can't deliver on."
"Why would you believe I can't deliver on it?"
"Because of everything you said about wanting power and magic. You had no hesitation hurting Diana when she hadn't done anything to hurt you—only bored you, if anything—and latching onto me even though I'd indicated I didn't want you." Harry folded his arms, nearly squashing his sandwich, while Riddle just continued not to blink and to look creepy as hell. "You lie like you breathe, Riddle. You can't make yourself honest any more than you could have left me alone once you saw my Arithmancy."
"If I came to you and told the truth, would you accept me?"
"As a husband? No. It would take more than that."
"How much more?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "So now you want me to set a limit so you can try to surpass it? No. I told you, Riddle. You can't fulfill the terms I set you anyway, so talking about any kind of future we could have together is impossible."
He turned away and walked into the Magical Menagerie. He could still feel Riddle staring after him, but so what? He would probably have to get used to the feeling of burning eyes on his back for a while. That didn't mean he was interested in yielding to them.
"Your young man isn't coming in with you?" Madam Madstrom asked.
"He's not mine," Harry said, and resolutely climbed the stairs to go eat his lunch.
Madam Madstorm received a Floo call a few minutes before they closed, saying her sister was in hospital, and tasked Harry with making sure all the animals on display were back in their tanks or cages before she vanished in a swirl of green flames. Harry went through the tasks with the same quiet satisfaction he'd drifted in all day.
The difference right now was that he was fairly sure he knew how to give himself Parseltongue.
It would have to be an equation, of course, to make the effects permanent, and the higher the number, the better. He didn't have associations with every single large number like he did with the thirty thousand he'd shown Neville, but that was all right. If could see a number as a repeating pattern of digits associated with serpents, building on each other, instead of a discrete entity, then he ought to be able to get what he wanted.
He didn't think he would get it right the first time. Only the significances he wanted to assign individual numbers came instinctively to him now. Or, he supposed, equations like the ones he had used in the forest last night where he had sought a way out of an intolerable situation, and one had opened around him like sunrise.
Harry placed the last Kneazle kitten in its large resting area with the others, turned off the lights, and went up the stairs. The flat that he owned here was small, but secure and comfortable. It had once belonged to Madam Madstrom, who wouldn't have tolerated it otherwise.
Harry made himself spaghetti for dinner, and then sat down and began to sketch out a repeating pattern of sevens and eights. The magic stirred slowly around him, but dimmed when he went past a certain point. Harry studied it. Yes, he had more than fourteen digits there, and he had never tried an equation with a number so large. He erased the last few numbers, and the soft humming stir of power came back.
Now, of course, the question arose of what he should add to it. He could be simple and add a 1, but on the other hand, that would mean the last digit in the new number wouldn't be an 8. Harry had no idea, at the moment, whether that would actually bestow Parseltongue on him.
He rapped his fingers on the table. Could he think of the 9 that would result as a number associated with a serpent? Possibly. It had that tail. It could coil like a snake would. He simply hadn't ever thought of it like that before, and he was wary about empowering the equation until he had solved the problem.
So he sat back, closed his eyes, and meditated on the number nine, filling his mind with the thoughts of snakes, how they could lie in any shape, how the darting tail on the nine might be a tongue as well as a tail, how he could imagine eyes on it without disrupting the overall shape.
And, well, if he could make water flow in such a shape as to leave a blank pool in the center, surely he could imagine a lazily napping snake having that same shape? Sprawled careless on the ground in the sunlight, leaving that gap because it had no reason not to?
The longer Harry thought about it, the more clearly the image of the serpent that would make up his imaginary nine came to him: golden, a large constrictor rather than a venomous snake, dozing after a full meal, complacent and ready to swallow him up as part of the people who could speak to its kind.
When he felt he was ready, he opened his eyes, smiled, and began to add on the 1 to the end of the equation.
Before he could even finish the equals sign, someone knocked heavily on the door of the flat—the one that was at the top of a small flight of rickety stairs leading down into Diagon Alley, not the one that led down into the locked shop.
Harry flicked his wand into his hand. Yes, it was probably Riddle, but that didn't make the plan to face him armed any less sound.
"Who's there?" he called, as he stepped towards the door.
Harry rolled his eyes as he lowered the wand so it wouldn't be immediately visible when he opened the door, and cracked it. Riddle stood on the top step, staring at him quietly. Harry studied him. There was something off about him, enough that it made him wonder if this was actually Malfoy under Polyjuice or something. For one, there was an oddly greasy feeling in the air around him, as if a lightning strike was about to impale him.
For another, that pale, solemn expression was one Harry had never imagined on Riddle's face.
Riddle lowered his head a little, as if he was trying to deflect criticism or a curse. "May I come in?"
Harry shrugged and stood aside, although he kept an equation for disarming Riddle if he should try to draw his wand at the forefront of his mind. It wouldn't do much about wandless magic, but Harry thought Riddle was still likely to go for his wand first, especially given what he knew about Harry's Arithmancy.
Riddle stepped into the flat and looked around. Harry expected the curled lip, but then the sneer slid back into the quietness of Riddle's face again. It was creepy, in all honesty.
Then again, Harry had a hard time imagining when he had found something Riddle had done not creepy.
Riddle turned to face him. "This is where you live?"
"I know it's not a palace."
"I did not mean it that way. Simply that you could have a larger space if you let other people know about your Arithmancy, and it is nothing like the house that your parents purchased for Diana and me."
"I wouldn't have wanted the sense of obligation to them anyway, not after the way they treated me."
Riddle nodded as if he could understand that, and took a seat on the opposite side of the small table in front of the fireplace. He glanced at Harry's equation, apparently reading the numbers upside-down. "What does this equation do?"
"I'm getting ready to see if I can make myself into a Parselmouth."
Riddle inhaled sharply. His eyes were wide with something that might have been wonder, or well-feigned if it wasn't, and his hand trembled as he reached out to caress the paper. "It would give me joy to share that with you."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "What, no railing about how that would destroy your uniqueness?"
"At the moment, the only other Parselmouth I know is Diana. Yes, I would prefer to share that with someone who isn't her."
Harry gave a short, sharp chuckle, and sat down across from Riddle. "I'm not trying to be like her or you. I wanted to see if I could do it, and I thought it would be useful to speak to the snakes in the shop."
"I never thought you were doing it to be like me." Riddle eyed him for a second, and then leaned forwards. Suddenly the flat felt too small to contain both of them.
Harry narrowed his eyes. It's going to be even smaller in a second, when I turn him into a donkey again.
But Riddle only said, in a soft, urgent tone, "Is the offer of listening to me if I could bare my soul still open?"
"Yes, but I still don't believe you'll do it."
"I am going to tell you my greatest secret," Riddle said. "The one I have kept for years, and certainly never revealed to anyone named Potter before."
Harry folded his arms. "That phrasing suggests you've revealed it to other people, though."
"All of them were eager to benefit from the power it could give them. You, though, would probably try to use it to destroy me."
"Okay," Harry said slowly. He had no idea what this could be. Everything he could think of was either too small to prove much of a test of honesty, or the kind of thing Riddle probably would have revealed to Diana, like his Parseltongue, to get her to trust him.
Riddle reached into his pocket and drew out a silken bag that bulged with odd shapes. The greasy feeling like a lightning strike about to launch suddenly increased around him. Harry narrowed his eyes, and the equation to give Riddle hooves and a tail flexed again in his mind.
But Riddle only laid the silken bag on the table and unwrapped it. Harry stared without understanding at the three objects on the table. An ornate locket with a serpentine-shaped S on the front, a glittering golden double-handled cup, a silver diadem with an oval-shaped stone on the front. Harry thought the stone might be a genuine sapphire, not that he'd seen a lot of them up close outside a few pieces of jewelry that his mother wore.
"What are these?" Harry asked. He found that he didn't want to touch the objects, beautiful though they were. The greasy feeling had intensified into something that felt like a smothering smoke.
Harry jerked, his eyes snapping up to Riddle's face. He remembered that word only from one Defense lesson at Hogwarts in their sixth year, when their professor, Alastor Moody, had described them with grim relish as objects that—
"Contain a part of your soul," Harry whispered.
Riddle nodded, dark eyes still fastened on him and outshining the objects on the table. "Yes."
"What the hell, Riddle?" Harry's voice was thick. He wanted to push himself away from the table, but he had the feeling that he wouldn't be able to move fast or far, that he would choke on the darkness the Horcruxes were emitting. "What is this? When did you even split your soul?" Another thing Moody had said was that Horcruxes caused immediately noticeable changes in the person who made them, and Riddle had looked and acted the same for all the years that Harry had known him.
"It was not precisely I who made them," Riddle answered quietly. "But a version of myself. There were once five of them—perhaps I should say six."
"The diary that you came from," Harry said, both sick and caught up in the realization, wondering now how he had come to accept the story of Riddle simply being "trapped" in the diary so easily. There weren't common rituals that would cause that which a lot of sixteen-year-olds could use, and certainly not many they could find in the library at Hogwarts. "You killed Georgina Fawcett."
"Drained her. Yes."
Harry bolted up from his chair and pressed his spine against the far wall.
Riddle looked at him with a trace of amusement in his eerily glinting eyes. "You are still more powerful, Harry. You can change me into an animal at any point you want. I'm sure you could come up with equations to destroy these." He nodded at the Horcruxes, and his hands twitched, but he didn't reach for them. "And in my very slight defense, Fawcett realized what I was right away, having been educated in the Dark Arts by her father. She planned to drain me and absorb my magic into hers. I simply killed her before she had the chance."
"At least you admit it's murder." Harry's voice croaked.
Riddle's shoulders rose and fell. "Self-defense."
"You—you said there were six." Harry's head was spinning. This was insane. But at the same time, any protection he might have against Riddle relied on numbers. Having an accurate count of the Horcruxes was important.
"Yes. These three." Riddle stroked the side of the diadem, and it seemed to vibrate and pure like one of the Kneazle kittens Harry had put to bed before coming up to his flat. "The diary was the fourth. There was a ring, but Dumbledore destroyed it, and died in the doing of it. It was cursed, and from what I can tell, he supposedly died of a Flesh-Devouring Curse."
Harry swallowed. Yes, there had been rumors that Dumbledore's right hand had been blackened by something that had also caused his death. Apparently, the body was so gruesome-looking that people who looked at it vomited. Harry hadn't been allowed to attend the funeral, so he didn't know for sure.
Riddle glanced at him. "The scar on your sister's forehead."
Harry wanted to scream, to rip, to tear something. "You put it there after you seduced her, you bastard? How could you think telling me this would make me want to be with you?"
"No. I told you that I did not do it, did I not?" Riddle drew his wand. Harry's snapped up, but Riddle turned away from him and began sketching in the air, red letters that spun and tumbled into place.
TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE.
Harry stared at them with dazed eyes. Had he ever known Riddle's middle name? He felt that he had, but he hadn't paid much attention to it.
Riddle gave his wand a practiced flick, and the letters rearranged themselves.
I AM LORD VOLDEMORT.
It was very loud in the little room, with the sound of Harry's breathing and his pulse hammering in his ears.
"It was a version of me who put that scar there, and was destroyed by your sister's magic." Riddle put his wand away and turned to face Harry. "I like to think that I know better than my older self. I was moving slowly, and I had chosen the political route rather than the terrorist's to change our world. I was able to verify that my elder self's spirit was vanquished utterly, and I vowed to never become him. I did not count on becoming captivated by you."
Riddle tossed his wand across the flat to Harry, spread his hands and bowed his head. "You know all the anchors of my immortality now, Harry, and as I said, I believe you could come up with a way to destroy them. Including the scar in your sister, if you wish. I have placed my life, my existence, in your hands. There is nothing that I fear more than death, but if that is what you wish to deal me, I would accept it. Do with me as you will."
He fell silent and sat there, hands and throat bared.
Harry stared at him, and couldn't think of a single fucking thing to say.