thoroughly impossible freak accident transports our favorite
attractive psychopath forward in time from 1942 to 1996. Harry
Potter/Tom Riddle slash. The end (wow, how descriptive).
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, Tom Riddle, or any other people, places or objects that may appear in this humble work of fiction.
Warnings: Possible spoilers up to the fifth book. M/M, obviously. Now rated M.
Author's Note: The weather is still against me. It's kind of hard to write when the power keeps blinking off every fifteen minutes… well, this is the last chapter. I'm sad to see it end, but this is the way I planned it. Thanks to everyone who reviewed; I never could have had the willpower to keep going with this without you. Not that it's a chore, but it's time-consuming, and it's always nice to know my work is appreciated. I hope you enjoy the final installment! Farewell!
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Separation
Harry wanted to shout out in protest; he wanted to shake his head, to say that it was impossible, that Dumbledore couldn't be dead – but there he was, and Harry didn't have time to protest, because Voldemort was turning his wand on him now.
Voldemort cast a spell he couldn't hear, and he ducked. He needn't have done so, however; the spell did not hit him. Instead, it formed a narrow, silver-gold tunnel leading from the forest to the grounds behind him. Into the passage Voldemort had built floated a row of Dementors, moving quickly and silently over the ground and fanning out before the Patronuses could hem them in again. Others of the Dementors were coming toward Harry, however, and now he was trapped between them and Voldemort.
Harry couldn't finish the incantation; he was hit with a Silencing Charm. 'That will be all,' Voldemort sneered. The Dementors moved to grab Harry's arms, and he found himself too despairing to struggle. What was the point? Voldemort had won. Dumbledore was dead.
And then Harry looked to Tom, still sitting in the snow and staring at him, and he felt the despair being disintegrated in his chest. He struggled fiercely, now – he had to help Tom – but the Dementors had managed to get a good grip on him with their icy hands, which were many times colder than the snow at Harry's feet, and dragged him kicking and screaming over to their master.
'It is a beautiful night, is it not, Harry?' said Voldemort softly, reaching out his hand and summoning Harry's wand from his fingers. Voldemort pocketed it. 'Mars shines brightly tonight, or so the centaurs said before we killed them. I wonder, if they are so clever at seeing the future, how they could have missed the minor detail of their own demise.'
Voldemort muttered and flicked his wand, and Harry found the Silencing Charm lifted. 'Just get it over with,' Harry spat. 'If you're going to kill me, at least have the kindness not to torture me with one of your long-winded speeches first.'
Voldemort looked at Harry with the same disgust Tom had earlier that evening. The battle raged around him, and yet part of Harry felt so guilty about what he had said to Tom that Voldemort's glare cowed him into silence.
'One would think,' Voldemort whispered, his soft voice carrying over all the screams and shouts around them, 'that you would be eager to hear me speak. After all, if I am talking to you, I am not killing you, am I?'
'Some of us aren't afraid of death,' Harry replied far more bravely than he actually felt.
'That is good for you, Potter, for you will be experiencing it soon enough.' Two more Dementors moved to flank Voldemort; he did not seem at all affected by their presence. 'Grab the boy,' he said sharply, indicating Tom. Harry looked around and saw that there were even more Dementors crowding around them. The two Voldemort had spoken to were pulling Tom to his feet and dragging him limply. Harry knew what he must be feeling, and wondered if he was hearing the voice of his mother in his head at that very moment, as Harry did when Dementors were near him. He could only hear her faintly at the moment, despite all the Dementors; another advantage of Occlumency was being able to close his mind, at least partially, to these outside influences. He couldn't close his scar to them, though; it was bursting with pain, but he pressed it back. Harry knew he had to stay calm.
Tom, on the other hand, despite his varied magical knowledge, did not know Occlumency, and he was looking very pale and faint. Harry gazed desperately at him as he approached, wishing he could protect Tom's mind, as well.
'Ah, yes, you care for him, don't you? Is that not the worst of ironies, Harry Potter?' Voldemort chuckled softly. 'I suppose I should congratulate myself on putting you so completely in my thrall.'
'I'm… not… you…' a tiny whisper spoke. Tom looked positively green, and he vomited near Voldemort's boot a moment later.
Voldemort sneered. 'Get away!' he hissed at the Dementors. They let go of Tom, and he immediately fell to the ground, narrowly missing falling face-first into his own puke. Voldemort raised his own wand and levitated Tom off the ground. Harry saw that his face had turned from green to grey.
'That's better, I hope? This will be more of a challenge if you're throwing up.'
Tom nodded weakly, his
eyes closed and his head leaning to the side. 'I have a few
questions for you,' Voldemort continued, his eyes boring into Tom.
I'm going to die, Tom thought, feeling himself blacking out due to the presence of the Dementors. Yet that voice, so unlike his own, was calling him to wakefulness. 'Y-yes,' he heard himself say.
'Open your eyes, child,' Voldemort whispered gently. He felt a scaly finger brush his chin and pull his head straight. There was a strong power of suggestion behind that voice, and Tom could not help but do as it asked.
'There, now, that's better,' Voldemort said, still gentle. 'You're going to answer some questions for me. If you lie,' he hissed, 'I will kill you where you stand.'
'Liar,' Tom said, almost feeling like laughing at such an ineffective threat after all he had seen this man do tonight. 'You won't kill me.'
'Awfully sure of ourselves, aren't we?' Voldemort laughed lightly.
'Yes,' Tom smiled back, 'we are.'
Voldemort's red, snake-slit eyes narrowed. 'Tell me how you came to be here,' he said.
Stall stall stall… 'Accident,' he said simply. Well, it's true.
'If I kill you,' he asked, apparently not caring any more than Harry did about how Tom got there, 'will I, myself, cease to exist?'
'Of course,' Tom replied, 'how could you not?'
Then, like a bucket of ice water falling over his face, those eyes pierced his, searching. 'Liar,' Voldemort breathed. He smirked. 'I would lie in your position, myself. No,' he continued, 'it seems that you are an entirely different entity from me now. Until you traveled to this time, we were one, and then,' he snapped his skeletal fingers, 'we split. That is the truth I see in your eyes, yes…'
I'll have to learn Legilimency some day, Tom swore to himself in annoyance – although it seemed he already had.
'So harming you will not harm me. That is as it should be; you are far more useful to me this way.'
'How wonderful for you,' Tom said lazily.
'Yes,' Voldemort hissed. He turned his attention back to Harry. 'You see, Potter, with the help of your sweet lover, I will soon be free of you. His magic and mine are one and the same… identical…'
Voldemort ran a hand down Tom's freezing cold arm. Tom shuddered. 'Yes, perfect. This is precisely what I need. Your essence will give me more power than I have ever had before.' He stroked Tom's cheek reverently.
'Don't touch him!' Harry growled.
'Jealous, Potter? Tsk, tsk,' Voldemort said mockingly.
'He's not jealous,' Tom grumbled, turning his face away from Voldemort's hand and his disgusting, scaly fingers. 'He doesn't care two straws about me. I don't know where you got any other idea.'
'Tom,' Harry sighed. 'I'm sorry, okay? Could we maybe discuss this later?'
'There won't be a later,' Voldemort hissed.
'Fine, then! I'm sorry! I love you, and I'm sorry I said those things to you!' Harry shouted.
'How touching,' drawled Voldemort.
'Are you… do you mean it? Really?' Tom asked, his voice hopeful.
'Do you two need a moment alone?' Voldemort snapped. Tom almost smirked; he could imagine how little he would like not being the center of attention at his moment of triumph.
'Yes, I mean it,' Harry replied sharply, glaring at Voldemort.
'I'm sorry, too, Harry,' Tom said. 'I didn't mean to –'
'That's quite enough,' Voldemort deadpanned. 'As I was saying,' he said directly to Tom, his foul breath brushing across Tom's lips, 'you will die to further my power. You should be proud, Tom,' he whispered.
'Harry's right, you know,' said Tom conversationally, 'you really do talk a bit much.'
Lord Voldemort scowled. He put his hand into his robes and withdrew a corked vial. 'Do you know what this is, Tom?' Voldemort asked.
Tom looked at the vial appraisingly. The color and consistency would be most commonly found in… 'Polyjuice Potion?' Tom asked.
'Yes,' Voldemort hissed, smiling obscenely. 'And here,' he continued, drawing something out of a pouch that looked like gray rubber, 'the flesh of a Dementor. I am going to become a Dementor of sorts. The Polyjuice won't turn me into a full Dementor, but it will give me the ability to suck your soul and seep the magic from your bones, and because we are the same person –'
'My soul, and my magic, will remain in you when the transformation is complete,' Tom concluded in a deadened voice, a vision of dawning horror creeping into his mind.
Voldemort smirked and uncorked the bottle. Tom heard a distant pounding noise coming from the Forest – or maybe it was just the pounding of his own veins…
Harry watched in horror as Voldemort put the flesh into the vial and drank it greedily. Then he watched as Voldemort transformed; he heard his bones creak in protest and saw his feet lift off the ground until he was hovering an inch or so off of it. His flesh became even more foul and decayed than usual, and Harry heard frightened choking noises escaping Tom's throat. 'No!' Harry yelled. He tried with all his might to break away from the Dementors, but it was no good. His head was pounding, pounding…
And, when the transformation was complete, Harry watched Voldemort lean over Tom's face, not quite touch his lips, and breathe in deeply, and Harry screamed and screamed.
Tom would have screamed, but he could not emit any sound. Voldemort was sucking breaths out of Tom's mouth, he was sucking his soul. It felt like acid was burning his insides, like his lungs had exploded, and through all that he could feel tingling strands working their way up through his arms, and he wondered if that was what it felt like to have your magic stripped away, stolen. He was so scared, so scared…
Please, make it stop…
He thought he could hear someone else screaming, far away, screaming… Harry…
Harry, I'm sorry…
Tears were streaming down his cheeks… His eyes closed once more, and he couldn't open them again…
Harry, I'll miss you… I love you…
With that thought, the pain stopped, and as love for Harry filled his chest, he could feel Voldemort shrink away.
And then it stopped. Harry's voice was hoarse. He watched as Voldemort fell back, coughing. Tom crumpled to the ground, no longer held up by magic, and lay very still. Voldemort dropped to his hands and knees and hacked, his neck convulsing rhythmically like Crookshanks coughing up a hairball. The pounding in Harry's head was getting louder – why wasn't Occlumency keeping it away like it had before? – and then Harry heard the trees rustle. He looked up and toward them, and saw one of the taller ones fall down into another. Something was moving in the forest – something big.
Voldemort's hacking seemed to be successful; a ball of pinkish light spread out of his mouth like chewing gum. It floated out over to Tom, spreading a warm glow over Tom's chest and settling inside him.
Harry saw an enormous foot appear out of the trees. Then he saw an enormous hand pushing back a tree in the way of its enormous face. Giants, about a dozen of them, were walking out of the Forbidden Forest.
This is it, Harry thought grimly as one walked toward him and the two Dementors holding him still. Then the giant did something unexpected; it reached down, and Harry closed his eyes. But he soon felt the hands gripping his arms release, and the pressure building up in his mind from fighting the depression the Dementors brought on lessened. He opened his eyes, rubbed his sore arms, and looked up at the giant. It had picked up the two Dementors and was tossing them far across the grounds, one by one. They're on our side!
Voldemort was still half-collapsed on the ground. The guard of Dementors circling them was breaking ranks as they fled the giants, and Harry knew that this was his chance. He focused with all his might, reached his hand out toward Voldemort, and cried, 'Accio wand!'
At first he didn't think it was working, and was wondering if he'd have to bodily tackle Voldemort to get his wand back, but then a piece of wood began poking up slowly from Voldemort's pocket. Harry bit his lip and shut his eyes, thinking about just how much he wanted his wand with him at that moment, and felt the familiar piece of holly fly into the palm of his hand.
Harry gripped his wand tightly and pointed it at the Dementor Voldemort, who was rising from the ground, now, and taking out his own wand. Harry focused, hard, on the look he had seen on Tom's face every night when their desire had ended and they were lying together in bed, the look that made Harry feel lightheaded, and only then, at that moment, did he truly understand that it had been a look not only of happiness, of fulfillment, but of love, and with that thought filling his heart with indescribable joy he produced the most beautiful, blindingly bright stag he had ever laid eyes on, and it charged Voldemort with ferocity.
The Dementor-Voldemort was thrown up by the stag's horns, his robes torn and tattered, and as he fell back down the stag butted him with its head, sending him flying several yards. The stag charged again, but Voldemort held up his wand, and with a loud pop, he Disapparated.
Harry ran over to Tom as the stag went off to charge more Dementors. He got down to the ground and shook Tom's shoulders, but he didn't wake. 'Come on, Tom, come on!' he yelled desperately. 'Wake up, you can't be dead, please don't be dead –'
Then Harry was hit with a spell in the back and his vision went black.
'The loss of Dumbledore is tragic… terribly tragic… other casualties?'
'Half the centaurs, gone… Filius and Minerva have been sent on to St. Mungo's… Elphias Doge, dead… Hestia Jones got the Kiss… not to mention extensive damage to the wards in the grounds… we're fortunate the giants arrived when they did.'
'Er, yes, about that –'
'And we are also fortunate that they have agreed to stay on to guard Hogwarts.'
'I really don't think –'
'I am certain that many of the students would not be allowed to return with Dumbledore gone, were this not the case.'
Harry lay listening groggily, his eyelids still too heavy to open even if he wanted to. Dumbledore is dead, his head kept telling him, Dumbledore is dead. Did he even want to wake up to a world without Dumbledore?
Tom. The thought penetrated his skull like a centaur's arrow. His eyes shot open and he sat up in bed in a moment.
'Harry?' said a croaky voice beside him. Harry's head swiveled sharply and he saw Tom, red-eyed, staring at him in relief.
'Tom,' Harry said, his eyes closing as he took a steadying breath. 'Tom, you're okay!'
'Of course I'm okay,' Tom snorted. 'You were the one who was slammed in the back by a fireball. Good thing Lupin was close by and managed to put it out.'
Now that Tom mentioned it, Harry's back was extremely sore. He felt his chest and noticed the heavy bandages around his torso. 'The nurse needs to change the dressing once every hour and a half, so you can't leave yet,' Tom continued, 'or your back will start charring again.'
Harry smiled, but then his attention was caught once more by the voices outside the hospital wing. One sounded like Snape, but the other was unfamiliar.
'It's Professor Snape and the Minister of Magic having a polite row,' Tom said, noticing Harry's interest. 'The Minister doesn't trust the giants, but Snape is keen to ensure that they stay. Dumbledore is dead,' Tom continued out of the blue, his tone emotionless.
'I remember,' Harry replied softly.
'They haven't decided on when the funeral is yet,' Tom went on. 'Dumbledore bought me dress robes. I suppose I'll wear them then.'
Tom's voice was so devoid of inflection that it made Harry suspicious; even talking about the weather would have more feeling behind it. 'Tom, you don't have to hide from me,' Harry reminded him gently.
'Your friends didn't want me to see you,' Tom said, ignoring Harry's comment. 'They want an explanation for why my name showed up as Tom Riddle on the Marauder's Map, but the nurse is making me stay here to make sure I'm all right, so they couldn't stop me from waiting for you to wake up.'
'Don't worry, I'll explain it to them.'
Tom looked down at his lap. 'You take too much upon yourself. I can explain. I'm not a coward.'
Harry reached out a hand and placed it on top of Tom's, which were curled together on his lap. 'But you don't have to. I know you're no coward, Tom. You don't have to prove anything to me,' he said softly. 'Besides,' he added, a humorless smile creasing his face, 'it might not be safe for you to be in the same room with them until I've explained everything and made them promise not to hex you.'
Fifteen minutes later, Ron and Hermione showed up in the hospital wing. They both smiled widely at him, but gave Tom looks of suspicion. 'He hasn't hurt me all year,' Harry said edgily, 'so I don't see why he would now.'
'You said you'd give us an explanation,' Hermione reminded him pointedly. 'The other boys are waiting for one, too. Ginny says she knows what's going on, but she thought that you might want to be the one to tell us.'
'I'll tell you all together, how about that?' Harry replied, sitting up in bed and trying to get out of it.
'No, Harry!' Tom hissed. 'You have to stay in bed.'
'S'okay, mate, don't get up,' Seamus said, sneaking into the room. Neville and Dean followed. 'We're all here. So, is he You-Know-Who's nephew or something?'
'Er, Tom, do you have somewhere else to be?' Harry asked him, raising his eyebrows.
'Naturally,' Tom replied, 'but the nurse will have kittens when she finds out I'm gone, just to warn you.' With that, Tom edged around Harry's friends and out the door. When it clicked shut, Harry began his tale. As expected, once he had revealed that it was, indeed, Tom Riddle, Ron was keen on leaving to find him and kill him with his bare hands, but as the story continued – with Harry leaving out a few, more personal bits – they eventually calmed down, though Ron was still wearing a dark look.
'Do you seriously expect him to be a good boy, Harry?' Ron growled.
'He has been so far, except for attacking Death Eaters,' Harry replied defensively.
'Harry,' Hermione sighed. 'You can't expect us not to be worried. Are you sure he hasn't seduced you so he can… can…'
'If he was planning to off me, he's had plenty of opportunity, as I've been sleeping in his bed without my wand for months,' Harry said.
'Blimey, Harry!' Seamus said, his mouth hanging open. 'I don't feel comfortable sleeping in the same room with him!'
'You'll have to get comfortable,' Harry said acidly.
'Are you sure he'll still be so well-behaved with Dumbledore gone?' Neville asked seriously.
'Yeah, good question, Neville!' Ron said, thumping him on the back.
'Yes, he will,' Harry replied. 'Look, all I ask of you lot is not to say who he is and not to treat him any differently than before. He's still the same… well, okay, so he's not the same person, but he's still nice enough, even if he does have a vicious, vindictive, murderous streak.' Harry didn't think that he was making much of a case with that statement.
'He's a Slytherin!' Dean piped up. 'I say that's enough reason to chuck him out.' The others nodded fervently at this.
'Wasn't it you, Hermione, that was harping on about inter-house relations last year?' Harry retorted. Hermione flushed. 'So I happen to be having some inter-house relations with Slytherin that don't involve me beating up Malfoy. What's it to you? I'm not telling you not to watch out for him because that would insult your intelligence, but if you could not attack him unless he's going to attack you, that would be great,' Harry snarled.
'I say,' Ron snarled back, 'that he should be thrown to the Dementors.'
Harry was about to respond furiously, but there was a knock at the door, and Tom opened it slightly. 'Could I come back now? I'm supposed to take a potion the nurse left me,' he said meekly.
The sight of Tom at this moment had a deflating effect on the argument. It seemed that once they actually saw the person who they were talking about murdering or chucking out, Harry's friends and fellow Gryffindors felt significantly more awkward. 'Uh, sure,' Seamus said, smiling guiltily.
As Tom went to his bed to take the potion sitting beside it, Dean whispered, 'It's not like he's done anything to us. Maybe Harry's right and he's harmless. Dumbledore thought it was right to let him stay.'
The magic word – Dumbledore – had its desired effect. Even Ron, from the guilty, conflicted look on his face, realized that if they were to reveal Tom for who he was, Tom would have no one to protect him from the wrath of the Ministry, which is precisely what Dumbledore had wanted to protect him from, and it would be pretty rotten to argue with or overrule Dumbledore now that he was dead. 'Please,' Harry added quietly, after the guilt had settled in properly, 'if you could just keep his identity a secret and not hurt him… I mean, if I can forgive him…' he reminded them. After all, if anyone had a right to hate Tom, it was Harry, though Ginny could make a fair enough case for herself.
'All right, Harry,' Hermione said stiffly after a few more moments.
Ron looked at Hermione, then his shoulders slumped. 'Okay, fine. Great.'
'As long as he doesn't hex me, I won't hex him,' Dean added.
'He's always been nice to me,' Neville said shyly, 'so I don't see why I wouldn't stick by him.'
'If everyone else agrees…' Seamus shrugged. 'I sure don't want to be the villain. But…er, you do watch him every night, Harry? He won't hex us while we're sleeping?'
'No,' Tom's voice replied, setting the empty potion vial on the table, 'I promise I won't hex you unless you're wide awake. I'm only joking!' he added hastily as Ron and Seamus drew their wands.
'So he stays then,' Ron muttered. 'Watch out for yourself, Harry. If he harms one hair on your head…' Ron was holding his wand in his hand very tightly.
Harry glanced over at Tom, who was looking annoyed at being threatened, his lip curling into a sneer. Harry gave him a look that told him to keep his temper in check, and Tom, seeing it, choked down his anger and nodded slowly.
Dumbledore's funeral was a grand affair. It took place at Hogwarts so that all the students could go. The casket was open, so people could look at him if they wanted. Over half the students were in tears; Professor McGonagall was supposed to deliver a eulogy, but Harry didn't know how she would manage, as she had been crying into Professor Sprout's shoulder for a quarter of an hour. Even Malfoy, who hated Dumbledore, stayed quiet; he couldn't be too stupid to know that he'd have about sixteen different curses flying his way if he said a word against the Headmaster that day. Hermione was in tears, her face buried in Ron's chest. Ron, who Harry had never seen cry in his life, had tears welling up in his eyes. Ron's whole family was there, too, along with what seemed to be a good chunk of wizarding Britain.
Tom stood beside Harry stiffly, straight-backed and proud, not a trace of emotion on his face. Harry knew that Tom and Dumbledore had experienced problems, but Dumbledore had had an extraordinary influence on Tom's life for a long time. Tom had only recently learned that Dumbledore had saved his life when he was a child and, despite the open animosity for the Headmaster that Tom had sometimes shown, Harry had been under the impression that, despite their differences, they each held a respect for the other that couldn't be expressed in words, especially by Tom. Harry knew that Dumbledore had to have some feeling for Tom other than dislike to have saved him from Azkaban and the Ministry when he had traveled to this time, and he also knew that Tom had an almost masochistic fascination with the Headmaster. Too often had he seen Dumbledore's face echoed in Tom's Pensieve to think that Tom didn't care about what Dumbledore thought of him. Yet Tom stood tall and neutral beside Harry amongst a sea of crying faces and did not shed a tear – despite the fact, known only by the two of them and Voldemort, that Dumbledore had chosen to save Tom's life at the cost of leaving himself wide open in a duel with one of the most powerful wizards living. In effect, Dumbledore's death had been for the purpose of saving Tom.
Harry was not crying, either, even though he probably knew Dumbledore better than any other student in the school. It was because of this, not despite it, that Harry couldn't shed tears. He knew that Dumbledore had looked on death as being the next great adventure and that he wouldn't want to be mourned. Albus Dumbledore would want his life to be celebrated, not cried over. Even though Harry knew he would miss him, Dumbledore had died in exactly the way he would have wanted to: protecting a Hogwarts student.
He would have given anything at that moment to see into Tom's mind, to know what he was thinking. Was he hating Dumbledore's memory behind those closed eyes, or was he, deep inside, mourning him?
Harry would have been surprised to know that Tom was thinking nothing at all. He was becoming good at it already; he had taken out a book on Occlumency from the Restricted Section – no one watched him in the library, now. It felt strange, when his thoughts were usually racing so fast, to slow them to a crawl and stop them. He stared straight ahead toward Dumbledore's coffin. He and Harry were both in line to see him. Harry's eyes were bloodshot and sunken; even if he wasn't crying, he looked awful. And that brought such a surge of guilt passing without warning through Tom's chest that he nearly retched. Think nothing, Tom told himself. Think nothing at all.
It took a long time for them to reach the end of the line, to reach Dumbledore, and neither spoke a word to the other in the interim. Harry was approached several times by weeping mourners telling him how proud Dumbledore had been of him, how Harry shouldn't blame himself. Each time Harry gripped Tom's hand tightly, and Tom wished he wouldn't because it made it hard not to think. Then they reached the coffin, and Tom looked inside.
There was nothing there, nothing in that old body. He was wearing his half-moon spectacles, but there was no amusement or anger glinting through them, and they'd combed his hair all wrong, and he knew that Dumbledore wouldn't want to be buried in that staid black robe, he'd want something in putrid purple. There was nothing. He felt like shouting out 'This isn't Dumbledore! Why are you all coming to look at this wrinkled body they've put in his place!' but he did not, though his throat worked around the words for several moments, and for the first time that day Tom felt tears stinging the corners of his eyes, but he looked away sharply and managed to hold them back.
Tom left afterward, before the service began. Harry had to stay; it would look too strange for Harry Potter, Dumbledore's favorite, the last one to see him alive, to leave early, but no one would think it strange of Tom. Those who didn't know who he really was wouldn't think that he'd known Dumbledore very well, having only been at Hogwarts for six months, and those who did know would probably be glad for him to be gone; they'd probably think he was making a mockery of the service just by being there. Draco Malfoy had already left, along with most of the other Slytherins. Tom went up to Gryffindor Tower, did not respond to the portrait when she said 'My, aren't we back early?' except to say the password, and then walked through the empty common room up to the empty dormitory. He almost reached for his Pensieve, but instead he took a book and closed the curtains around him. He sat there with the book for some time, flipping the pages at regular intervals, but anyone around him would have known that it was too dark to read.
Harry felt very weird sitting through the reading of Dumbledore's will up in the Headmaster's old office – now Minerva McGonagall's temporary one, though the change was expected to become permanent. The Minister for Magic was there, along with many of the staff and a good deal of the Order of the Phoenix, including Remus Lupin, Tonks, Moody, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Harry was the only student present, and he felt very out of place and wanted to go make sure Tom was okay, but he didn't object; he didn't say a word throughout the entire reading.
He didn't know why he'd been invited when the reading was over because Dumbledore hadn't left him anything. He had to admit he was a little surprised about that, but he supposed it made sense; Dumbledore didn't have anything Harry needed or wanted. Then, when the reading was over, Professor McGonagall told him, Lupin, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to stay behind. Once everyone had filed out, she produced two letters.
'This letter is for you, Remus,' McGonagall said, 'and this one is for you, Molly.' Mrs. Weasley looked exceptionally puzzled to be receiving a personal letter from Dumbledore, but she took it without hesitation. Harry expected McGonagall to say that he'd gotten a letter, too, but she did not. She sat down. 'Mr. Potter,' she said. Harry looked around sharply. 'Dumbledore has left instructions about what to do with a mutual acquaintance of ours.'
'You mean Tom?' Harry choked. Had Dumbledore said not to let Tom stay at Hogwarts if Dumbledore died?
'Yes. Mr. Maxwell is, as you know, at Hogwarts on Dumbledore's charity. He has left him a significant sum; however, he has had it placed in your vault, as Mr. Maxwell does not have one of his own. It should be more than enough to cover the boy's Hogwarts expenses for the next year, to say the least.' McGonagall said all this curtly and quickly, as though wanting to get it over with. 'He had also left a letter for Mr. Maxwell, which I trust you will deliver to him.' She stood up, and Harry walked over to grab the sealed piece of parchment from her. 'I believe Molly's letter also contains some instructions pertaining to him.'
Professor McGonagall looked over at Mrs. Weasley pointedly. Mrs. Weasley looked up and nodded fervently. 'Yes. Yes, of course Arthur and I will take him over the summer. Poor boy,' she said, tears returning to her eyes after all the crying she had done over Dumbledore. Harry idly wondered what story Dumbledore had made up about Tom to make her so upset.
'Then our business together is concluded,' McGonagall said. Harry took that to mean that he could leave, and he did so, without a backward glance at any of them.
Harry walked quickly to Gryffindor Tower; he hated the pitying looks he received as he went. Hermione and Ron were in the common room, but he shook his head as they approached him and went up to the dormitory. All the curtains were open except for one.
'Tom?' Harry said, walking over to his bed. He slowly opened the curtains. Tom was lying in bed, a open book in his hands, fast asleep. Harry frowned, ran a hand through Tom's hair, and then left.
Tom's eyes opened.
The next months passed much more quietly at Hogwarts than usual. There were fewer attacks reported in the Daily Prophet. Except for the giants now guarding the castle gates, the complete cessation of Hogsmeade visits, and the cancellation of all further Quidditch matches, none of which were unexpected, Professor McGonagall made no changes to the usual running of the school. She still taught Transfiguration while taking on the duties of the Headmaster, and Harry noticed that she looked increasingly run-down and ragged as the year drew to a close.
Harry's relationship with Tom was still going strong. Neither mentioned their argument the night of Voldemort's attack; Harry supposed they both figured that if the other had taken the time to apologize while being held captive by Voldemort that was good enough to be going on with. Tom was more subdued than normal, though Harry supposed that might just be because it wouldn't be seemly to be cheerful. He didn't think that was the reason, however, especially when Tom's quietness extended long past the mourning period of the rest of the school. He had given Tom Dumbledore's note the next day, but he knew that Tom had never opened it. He had seen it sticking out of the inside pocket of Tom's robes a few times a week, still sealed. Harry didn't pry into what Tom was feeling; he didn't think he could ever understand the bizarre relationship the two of them had had, so he doubted he could be much help. He figured Tom would open the letter when he was ready, and that was that.
Ron was none too thrilled to learn that Tom would be staying with his parents over the summer, but he grudgingly promised Harry to take care of him, but only as a testament to their long-standing friendship. Tom wasn't pleased to learn that he'd be spending the summer without Harry, either, but he took it well enough once Harry assured him that, as soon as he turned seventeen and couldn't be forced to stay at the Dursleys' home anymore, he would go to him. It was only at this point, after knowing each other for months, that Tom mentioned his birthday was August 1st, the day after Harry's, and Harry needled him – perhaps more than was necessary – about being younger than him. 'Just you wait until my birthday,' Harry said. 'I'll perform magic all day, and you won't be able to hex me for teasing you for a good twenty-four hours.' Then Tom hexed him for real, 'to make up for that day in advance,' and Harry shut up.
All in all, Harry could not say he had had a bad year at Hogwarts. Dumbledore's death stained it, true, but Harry had met Tom and fallen in love with him, and had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't be falling out of love any time soon. It was hard for him, being young, to imagine living to Dumbledore's age with Tom still at his side, but it was even harder to imagine life without him, so he supposed he was stuck. And he didn't mind a jot.
Tom didn't open Dumbledore's letter until he was on the train leaving Hogwarts, while Harry walked off to the Prefect's compartment to find Ron and Hermione, doubtless to give Ron some final instructions as to Tom's care and feeding. He smirked at the thought – Harry did talk to Ron about him as if he were some kind of tetchy but fragile plant when he believed Tom to be out of earshot.
The smirk was erased from his face as he recalled himself to his task. His thumb ran over the seal for a brief instant before he carefully opened the letter.
If you are reading this letter, then you ought to know that I believe you have already made great progress, as I don't doubt that, at the beginning of the year, you would have torn it to shreds. Even if it has taken you a while to open it – which I don't doubt it has – you have changed, and for the better, in my admittedly less than humble opinion.
I want you to remember your promise to protect Harry but, just as importantly, I want you to know something that I told Harry long ago: to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. My mind may not have seemed particularly orderly to you at times, but there was a method to my madness, however effective or ineffective you may have thought it to be.
I know that you care for Harry – perhaps you even love him, but you have always been particularly hard for me to read without cheating, an achievement you may congratulate yourself upon – and in order for you to maintain those feelings in your heart, you must organize your own mind. You are always so intent to fill it up with knowledge, but rarely have I seen you considering that knowledge, placing it in the context of your own life and the lives of those around you. This is what you must do if you do not wish to be swallowed by your own magic; this is what you must do if you do not wish to become what you did before, and lose your feelings for Harry inexorably. This is my final piece of advice to you, little one: focus on organizing your thoughts, not producing too many to keep up with.
I thank you for being an entertaining student, and expect to see you some time in the very distant future.
Tom smiled, tears dotting his vision, and folded the letter back up in his pocket. He would keep it there, he decided, for some time to come. And when Harry returned and saw the smile on Tom's face and asked about its cause, Tom laughed, got to his feet, and kissed Harry deeply.
It had been a good year.