Title: Living Well
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Harry/Tom Riddle, mentions of others
Content Notes: AU, dimension travel, heavy angst, trauma, mentions of violence, flashbacks in past tense and present-time content in present tense
Wordcount: This part 4900
Rated: R
Summary: Harry is treated as a Dark Lord after the war, and ultimately, despite all the efforts of his friends, thrown through the Veil. He wakes up in a world that seems to be what his own might have been without Voldemort. Harry makes a small, safe, quiet place for himself and vows never to be involved in politics. Yet somehow he still ends up attracting Tom Riddle's attention.
Author's Notes: This is one of my "Samhain to the Solstice" fics for this summer, fics posted between Halloween and the winter solstice. It should have three or four parts. The title comes from the saying, "Living well is the best revenge."

Living Well


Ron's voice was hoarse and exhausted. Harry knew how he felt.

He reached out through the bars, and Ron's hand clasped his fervently. Harry closed his eyes and listened to the erratic jumping of Ron's heart, or at least what he thought was his best friend's heartbeat. If it wasn't, Harry didn't think he wanted to be told.

"They're throwing you through the Veil tomorrow."

Harry nodded slowly. He supposed that was kinder than the other possible option, which was to be Kissed by a Dementor. He felt a faint flicker of hope or gratitude or something like that. It was so small that he really couldn't identify it.

"I don't understand how they can believe it," Ron said next, his voice as disjointed as Harry's thoughts had become over the last few days.

Harry shrugged. "The word about the Horcruxes got out, and some people thought I was Dark because I was tainted by Voldemort," he mumbled, shifting around. There was nowhere in the holding cell that was really comfortable. He had a toilet and sink and nothing else. Dark Lords didn't need things to sit or sleep on, apparently. "And some people thought that me not using the Killing Curse or anything like that on Voldemort was a sign that I was so powerful I didn't need to, and that made them more afraid."

"I hate them."

"Don't show you hate them," Harry said, although he knew it might be too late for that. Ron and Hermione had protested his coming execution to the point that the Ministry would be afraid of them, too. "Just—try the best you can to go on and live your lives after this. Can you promise me that, Ron?"

"No!" His best mate's hand tightened crushingly on his, and Ron leaned forwards to smash his face against the bars. His glare was wild. "How can you tell us to do that, Harry? How can you think that this isn't going to destroy us?"

"Because it's inevitable that I'm going to die, now," Harry whispered. He'd made up these words last night when he was lying on the floor and staring at the stone ceiling and the darkness all around him. This holding cell was in a distant part of the Ministry, and they only ever turned on the lights when someone visited. "I want you and Hermione to make sure you can live. And—and think about it, Ron. If they did this to me, then they might do it to someone else. They didn't give Sirius a trial, either. I want you and Hermione to make sure that you're safe, too. Don't give the Ministry an excuse to go after you."

Ron sighed a little. "Hermione is already planning to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again."

"But she's planning to do the research quietly, right? And keeping her mouth shut for a little while so that when she starts reforming the laws, she has the power to do it and people who think she'll go along to get along?"

"Did you discuss it with her?"

"No. I just thought about what the best way would be to guarantee that she could pass the laws she wanted, and that was what came to mind."

Ron laughed, or half-laughed. "She said the same thing to me this morning. She said they'll pay, but she'll take it slow and make them think about it."

Harry nodded. He wouldn't have said even that much aloud, but a lash of his magic when he'd woken up the first morning and found himself here had destroyed the listening and eavesdropping charms the Ministry had placed. They'd tried to renew them when they brought him his meals, but Harry had deliberately kept destroying them. The Ministry shouldn't know Ron and Hermione's plans.

He was going to die, but his friends could live.

It's almost the same thing I thought as the last time I died.

"No pictures."

Kingsley's voice was loud and strained. Harry kept staring straight ahead as they marched him through the public portion of the Ministry towards the lifts. People along the way, from Ministry employees to witches and wizards who had "business" there that day, stared and shouted and hurled curses at him. Luckily, the Aurors who marched three deep around Harry had to lift shields to protect themselves, which meant none of the spells hit Harry.

He wouldn't be able to duck away from them now, the way he was anchored with chains around his wrists and arms and legs and ankles and neck. If he'd had a broom, he could have shown them…

I'm never going to fly again.

After everything, that was what almost broke him, that thought on the march to the Veil. Harry blinked rapidly and kept staring straight ahead. He heard one camera click, and a second later Kingsley incanted a loud Summoning Charm. There was an outraged squawk.

"No pictures, I said," Kingsley snapped, and then moved in front of Harry so that all Harry could see was his broad back in the fine blue Minister's robes.

You couldn't spare me, Harry thought. I wonder how hard you tried. He hadn't seen Kingsley except from a distance on the day when he'd been thrown into the holding cell. He didn't know how much the man had been involved in Ron and Hermione's protests, if he'd listened to them but not been able to do anything, or if he'd decided that he couldn't risk the Minister's office on trying to help.

But he was here now, and blocking Harry from having pictures taken of him. That was—not the same as sparing Harry's life, but it was doing something he didn't have to.

Harry kept watching the swaying of the Aurors' robes, not the walls of the lift as they rode down to the Department of Mysteries, and not the way the walls spun and danced as his captors negotiated their way to the Death Chamber. He did hear someone whining about how "We should have left Potter to the Unspeakables," and was very glad that he managed to hide his shudder as they walked up to their destination.

Being thrown through the Veil was a load of bollocks, as were the reasons they'd condemned him as a Dark Lord, but being left to the tender un-mercy of the Department of Mysteries would have been worse.

There were some of them watching, in grey robes, as Harry was marched up to the Veil. Probably taking notes, knowing them.

"Harry Potter, you are to be flung through the Veil of Death for numerous crimes, including but not limited to…"

Harry tuned it out. He stared at the Veil, listened to the whispering voice (even now they said nothing that he could really make out), and wondered if Sirius was on the other side. If he would see him. If he would see his parents, or if he would find himself in King's Cross again and have to take the train to go on.

He supposed it didn't really matter. He would be dead no matter what, gone no matter what.

I hope everyone I leave behind has happy lives, he thought absently as the Aurors cast spells that dragged him, despite his chained ankles, towards the Veil.

He was numb long before they pushed him through.

Harry tears himself out of bed and crashes to the floor, panting hard. He lies there for long moments, aware that the only cloth wrapped around his head is from his sheets, and that the quickly drying sweat on his body comes from nothing more than his nightmare. After long moments, he sighs and straightens.

A glance at the small clock by his bed reveals that it's five in the morning. Good enough to be going on with, Harry supposes. He won't get back to sleep after dreaming of his past like that, and he has to open the shop at six-thirty.

Harry stands up and reaches for his wand, which still gives a small unhappy thrum when he touches it. Harry ignores that. He worked for hours to find a wand in the small Knockturn Alley wandmaker's shop that was the only place he dared to go after he found himself on the other side of the Veil, somehow alive and without his chains. This one, chestnut wood and dragon heartstring, was the best.

And if it still feels like it doesn't belong in his hand, well, he doesn't really belong in this world, either. So they resemble each other.

Harry fills his rusty bathtub with water, and casts a Warming Charm on it to heat it. Then he strips efficiently and sinks into the water. It's nothing like the warm showers he once dreamed of taking when he was on the run after the Horcruxes, but so what?

Nothing has worked out according to his dreams.

Harry washes efficiently, behind his ears and everywhere else, and then stands up and Vanishes the dirty water. Hugo Jenkins, his boss, isn't fastidious, but he does insist on a certain level of cleanliness from his staff. And that Harry has never once missed work or shown up dirty makes Jenkins look on him with a kind eye.

Harry needs to keep his job at this world's equivalent of Borgin and Burke's. Merlin knows he has no chance of getting one anywhere else, with his lack of OWLS and NEWTS, and it's not as though he has a vault of gold waiting here to cushion him if he falls.

But he's been here five years, and if he has no friends and no allies, well, that's the way it has to be. He's seen what happens when people start deciding that he's worth paying attention to. The last thing he wants is to end up being forced through the Veil here. He'd probably end up back in his original world, and this time they'd have him Kissed.

Or he'd end up in some world that, unlike this one, did have a Voldemort.

Harry stretches, eats a piece of toast with jam for breakfast, does his best with his impossible hair, and goes to work.

Despite the amount of rubbish in it, Jewel in the Unexpected, Jenkins's shop and Harry's place of employment, isn't as Dark as Borgin and Burke's was. They mostly specialize in selling slightly illegal items, the kind that Aurors can't be bothered to chase down, like grimoires bound in human skin. The Aurors are more interested in finding people who are binding those grimoires now then scolding people for buying or selling ones that were bound centuries ago.

Hugo Jenkins grunts as he comes through the door. Harry's already had it open for a half-hour, and is busy rearranging books on the shelf.

"Here as always, Harry?"

Harry nods respectfully to his boss. Jenkins is an old, fat wizard, with a comfortable belly and just a fringe of white hair around the sides of his head. He wears mauve robes every day; they may be the same ones that he just hits with a Cleaning Charm, for all Harry knows. Jenkins isn't that shrewd except when it comes to bargains, and he isn't unprejudiced, full of casual hatred for Muggleborns like so many wizards Harry has talked to here.

But even though Harry is, as far as Jenkins knows, Muggleborn, he lets him work here. And he doesn't ask questions. Those are all Harry needs to make him loyal.

"Seen the Oracle today?"

Harry shakes his head as he puts on dragonhide gloves to side a cursed crystal ball into a drawer. The Oracle is the equivalent of the Prophet here, and although they're better on reporting pure facts about minor things, they carry salacious gossip about Wizengamot members and singers and Quidditch players on a regular basis. Harry doesn't give them his business.

"Interesting article about Mr. Riddle."

Harry half-winces at the sound of the name, but doesn't say anything. Tom Riddle is a powerful wizard here, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but there's no sign that he's committed more crimes than just trying to get rid of his political opponents. Harry doesn't seek out news about him, and tries not to show any interest if someone tells it to him.

"Says here," says Jenkins, settling back in his chair as he unrolls the paper, "that he's in a coma. A special curse. They don't know if he'll recover."

Harry makes a vague noise as he slides the gloves off. Then the bell over the door tinkles as a woman comes in with a furtive air and a veil wrapped around her face, and Harry forgets about Riddle as he settles into serving people who can barely look at him and will have no reason to concentrate on a mere shop assistant if they do.

Just the way he likes it.

"Don't look at me! I have no idea how to take this curse off him, either."

Tom strains against the feeling that's gripped him, as if he's wrapped in a thick dark cocoon from head to foot. It restrains his magic, his body, his ability to open his eyes or speak. If he could just try hard enough, perhaps he would be able to see them and tell them that he can hear them. He knows exactly what this is. He knows exactly where it came from.

"I might."

Tom tenses at the sound of that voice, the voice of the person who cursed him in the first place, but he hears clothes rustle as if other people are turning towards her. "What do you mean, Travers?"

"This is the Sleepless Soul Curse. We need to find someone whose magic and soul are compatible with his, someone who can pull him back to the land of the living because they'll remind his own soul and magic that it exists. And there's a seeking spell that might find someone who's like that for Mr. Riddle."

Tom is actually grateful for the curse that means he can't frown right now, because he has no idea what Travers is doing. Why curse him and then try to save him? She could keep him lingering in a coma for weeks or months before someone else sought to research the symptoms and stumbled on the solution.

Ah. This probably didn't work out the way she wanted. She most likely wanted Tom's death outright, not this uncertain half-living situation, and when the curse didn't work immediately, she decided to make herself a heroine so no one will investigate her too closely, as one of the two people who was with Tom when the curse felled him.

Tom doubts that she knows he can hear things, any more than anyone else does, as there's a noisy chorus of approval. Then Travers says, "And we have to be prepared to bring anyone here. A goblin, or a Veela, or a Mudblood. And I say that we get ready to give them whatever they want in return."

There's some discontented muttering at that, and Tom would certainly object if he could open his eyes. He isn't going to have a goblin mucking about in his magic.

Not even if it's the only way for you to ever wake up again?

Tom would grimace at that thought if he could. Yes, all right, he would put up with a lot to have the ability to move around again, and speak, and get out of this bed, and have vengeance on Travers.

"Then let's go. We'll need to perform the spell in another room, or it might just point to Mr. Riddle as the closest compatible candidate in magic and soul."

Tom strains to listen as they step out of his hospital room, but he can't hear any more now. His fingers are motionless in the heavy sheets. He wishes they weren't. He wishes he could pluck and move and curse.

He tries to imagine what it will be like to have someone else touch his soul, no matter how briefly, but he can't, so he focuses on imagining revenge on Travers instead. It's much more pleasant.

Harry frowns down at the dented iron collar he's holding. It has a place in the front, where two delicate spokes run together, that might once have held a jewel, but there's no stone there now. He then frowns at Jenkins.

"It's magical," Jenkins says, and ends up with an enormous yawn. "And it's not cursed. We'll sell it."

"Yes, sir," Harry says, even if he can't see what use the collar will be without the stone that was probably the focus of its magic. He hangs it up on a hook that will allow it to display to as much advantage as possible and examines the next artifact in the pile that one of their regular customers brought in to hide from a Ministry raid.

At one time, Harry felt very odd about that, knowing that he's working in the kind of place that keeps artifacts like the diary hidden from the Aurors rather than for the kind of organization that finds those artifacts. But it doesn't matter. He knows no one here, except Jenkins and a few people who come into the shop often. He's not on any side. He just accepts the artifacts, and a special fee for holding on to them for a time.

The ones that have owners who can't afford the fee or owners who don't want to pay it go on display.

The next artifact is even odder, what looks like a twisted half-curve of gold somehow melted and reforged so that it forms one continuous piece. Harry doesn't know how you would wear it, or what you would use it for in a ritual.

He's just turning to Jenkins to ask if he should hang it from the ceiling on one of their finer silver chains when his head jerks to face the front door. Jenkins narrows his eyes. "What do you sense?"

Harry has no idea why he's so sensitive to the approach of magic in this world, something he never felt in his own. But coming through the Veil probably gave him all sorts of odd gifts and sensitivities, he thinks. All that matters is that magic projects in front of its owners, and behind them, and around them, like a kind of stiff, invisible cloak, and alerts Harry, telling him something about those owners' power level and mood.

This mood is urgent, angry, despairing in one person. And the magic that's honed to a defensive edge means—

"Aurors," Harry snaps.

Jenkins flicks his wand once. The complicated illusion spell speeds over the shop, snapping into place like wings around the illegal artifacts. The books will now have harmless spines and titles. The cursed suit of armor will look like a fine set of robes. The iron collar gleams like it's made of silver.

All harmless, all incapable of attracting attention. Harry himself calls down his magic into the depth of his belly and holds it there. It helps that he has a wand so ill-suited to him, because it makes him look less powerful. Jenkins thinks that his odd ability to feel magic is the only special talent he has.

Harry will take that, as he'll take his calm, peaceful, normal life in every other way. The Parseltongue and the Patronus Charm and the ability to overcome the Imperius Curse and whatever damage he might carry from having once been a Horcrux can stay his own secrets, thank you.

Jenkins leans back and folds his hands on his ample belly as if going to sleep. Harry picks up a rag and begins to wipe dust off the counters just as the door crashes open.

One of the Aurors, a tall woman with black hair, is marching along behind her extended wand, which blazes at the tip. It points straight at Harry. He blinks and stares at her, trying to show as much fear as she'd expect to find in a half-legal Knockturn Alley shop assistant, and not a whit more.

"What is your name?" she demands of him, moving the wand around a little as if she expects it to point at Jenkins. But it comes back to pointing straight at Harry, as steady as an anchor. Harry has a bad feeling about this.

"Harry," Harry squeaks, staring at the Aurors behind her. They've spread out in a defensive half-circle and are staring at him, too. Harry tries to ignore the way that his heart bounds just at seeing them.

This isn't your world, he reminds himself sharply. You've done nothing to attract attention. You aren't the Boy-Who-Lived.

"You may have heard that Mr. Riddle has been cursed," the woman says, and Harry barely fights the temptation to bury his head in his hands and howl.

"Yes," Harry says cautiously.

"It's a curse called the Sleepless Soul. It induces either death or a coma unless a search can find someone else with a compatible soul and magical power to free the cursed person." The woman leans forwards a little. "I cast the spell to find the person in Britain most compatible with Mr. Riddle in magic and soul. It led me straight to you."

"But there might be someone else more compatible?" Harry asks hopefully. "Outside Britain?"

"We don't have the time, kid," says another woman behind the first one, whose smile Harry might find comforting if she wasn't clad in the scarlet robes of an Auror. "Please come with us now. I promise you, if this works, Mr. Riddle is going to reward you with whatever you want. Your days of working in this poky little shop are over."

That's exactly what Harry's afraid of. He doesn't want to come to the Ministry's attention, much less Riddle's. All he can think of is that sooner or later, it'll mean a trip to Azkaban or the Veil.

"Can I just have my anonymity?" he whispers. It doesn't take much work to act overwhelmed, not when he actually is. "I want to come back to my shop and my job. Please don't tell Mr. Riddle who I am."

There's a long pause among the Aurors, as they look at each other. The woman who's pointing her wand at him looks happy, however. "Someone modest," she says, and smiles. "Yes, certainly. But you know that he may get your name from your soul, when it connects with his."

"It's a soul-connection ritual?" Harry asks faintly.

"Spell, but yes," says the other woman Auror. "It's okay, kid. I promise, I'll make sure myself that you can come back to the shop, and no one will tell Mr. Riddle about who you are, if that's what you want."

Harry nods quickly. He can't imagine what Riddle does for fun other than eliminate his political rivals and chase down magical Britain's criminals in increasingly terrifying ways, but he doesn't want to become Riddle's newest project.

He's an ordinary person who, if someone digs into his background, has no way to explain his existence to this world. He can't afford friends, let alone the kind of notice that might come his way if he appears in the papers or gets an Order of Merlin or something like that. He doesn't think the Aurors will spread the word around, though. They'd probably be embarrassed themselves at fetching a Knockturn Alley shopkeep to their master's bedside.

"Be safe, Harry."

The words from Jenkins are so unexpected that Harry jerks his head to the side, staring. His boss is sitting up, staring at him with bright, worried eyes.

A little warmth fills Harry's belly as he nods. He supposes he has one friend, then, or someone like it.

He turns back to the Aurors, in time for the one with the lighted wand to turn and march out of the shop, and the one who seems nicer to bow her head a little to him. "My name is Isabelle Yaxley. Our fearless leader in the front there is Lucinda Travers…"

Harry lets the names wash over him. They won't matter, soon, although he thinks he has heard both those names in the papers as Aurors with lots of active cases and arrests. He'll go, do what he needs to do, and then return to his shop as soon as he can.

He could resist, he supposes, but why make waves? Why attract attention? Why leave Riddle in a coma forever if he can help?

Tom is more than frustrated. He can't lift so much as a finger, can't twitch an eyelid. He thought that by the time Travers returned, he'd be able to muster up some resistance against her.

But no. She marches into the room in company with several other people. Listening, Tom can hear Yaxley's footsteps, and wishes he could get her attention somehow. She would be on his side, he's sure.

"What do I have to do?" asks a nervous, young male voice. The person they found who's compatible with his soul and magic, Tom supposes. The whole thing makes him stir with restless disdain, or would if he could move.

"Just stand still," says Travers.

Tom listens in interest, wondering if her next ploy is going to be to assassinate the person who's compatible with him. But the spell would find more than one candidate, so it's not as though that would avail her in the end—

He misses the quiet casting of the spell, but he doesn't miss the feeling of another soul touching his, or the music that comes with it.

Tom is utterly overwhelmed. From the time that he first drank the Elixir of Life after becoming Nicholas Flamel's apprentice, he's been alone and removed from the world. Even his familiar bond with Nagini is at a shallower level than it would be for most other wizards. That's always been all right with Tom. He doesn't particularly want to share power.

But this. This.

The music cascades through his soul, a song that he's always known, that he must have heard more than once on the waking edges of his dreams. It has a high, skirling radiance, but dips down even as Tom listens, and becomes as effortless as birdsong.

Yet it has its darker tones, too. A soul filled with absolute light would have nothing in common with his own, Tom thinks.

Enthralled, Tom listens, and barely notices when his fingers begin to twitch and loud, excited voices cry out. What do they matter? He wants to hear this song. He wants to listen to it forever.

Images dart through his head, but too fast to become more than swirling colors, now and then a glimpse of stone walls or a reaching hand, a smiling face, a recalcitrant wand of chestnut wood. Tom tries to seize on that last image, follow it up, but meets a dark wall that knocks him back into the flow of music.

Why does this man have a wand that will not serve him well? Tom will change that. He will make things better for the one whose song is bringing him out of the curse.

Tom has never felt this way. He decided against killing early on, yes, but mostly because it would attract too much attention. He has never cared much for other people. Either they are enemies or they are servants. And his enemies are too easily dispatched to engage him for long. In fact, Tom's most pressing foe in the last few years has been boredom.

He would never be bored again if he could go on listening to this song, he thinks. He reaches towards it, reaches

His eyes snap open. Tom takes a long, deep breath, and tries to sit up. He must see who this person is, the owner of that voice.

Travers seizes his shoulders and holds him in place. "Are you all right, Mr. Riddle?"

"Perfectly fine." Tom manages to ignore the urge to send his magic rolling up her arms and burn her to death from the inside out, and looks around hurriedly. He's too low on the bed to see much other than Auror robes, however. "Where is he?"

"He who, sir? Please lie still, we were all so worried—"

Not you, you murderess, Tom barely refrains from saying. She didn't manage to kill him, and he has someone he's much more interested in right now. "The man you brought here to revive me. Who is he? Where is he?"

Travers hesitates, making Yaxley step forwards. "He asked for only his anonymity as a reward for his service, sir. I had the impression that he was scared stiff to be in the Ministry even though we were the only ones who knew he was here. Please leave him alone."

Tom stares at her. "Are you mad?" he finally says. "I don't want to hurt him. I want to reward him."

"Nevertheless, sir."

Yaxley has her stubborn face on, which means Tom will get nothing out of arguing with her. But surely other Aurors know who this is, and Travers is a weak point, is made of weak points. Tom can question one of them and figure it out.

For now, he does feel weak, and lies down to make it seem as if he's slipping back into a natural sleep, despite the racing speed of his heart. He clutches desperately at the fading memory of the music in his mind, but it's going. The memory is nothing like the real thing, and won't be even if Tom manages to put it in a Pensieve.

I will find you, he thinks drowsily, as sleep catches up with him after all. Wherever you are, whatever your name is, whether you're a saint or a criminal, an Auror or an alchemist.

Nothing will ever hurt you again once you're mine. I swear it.