Tom began acting in an extremely strange manner over the next few days. For most of the summer he'd spent his time sequestered away in his room or in the library, but now it seemed like he was always near, always watching. And he seemed skittish. Attempted conversation didn't help; in fact, it simply confused Harry more. Tom never said that anything was wrong, never mentioned the book or the fact that he would be returning to school soon and several of his things were still inaccessible to him.
He seemed to be waiting for something, but Harry didn't know what.
Harry, meanwhile, found himself uneasy about other things as well. Something about his conversation with Dumbledore, and the subsequent one with Tom, had unsettled him. Or perhaps it was just a delayed reaction from the attack itself and knowing that he still wasn't safe, not even here. He kept himself as busy as possible to keep his mind off things.
The excess activity didn't take long to catch up with him.
His experience in Diagon Alley triggered the equivalent to a magical adrenaline rush that had yet to fade. His magic and mind were feeling great, overriding the physical exhaustion he should have been feeling as his body struggled to recover. His body, however, was in desperate need of rest, which it had been refused. Naturally, it retaliated.
Harry felt ill when he woke one morning several days after his visit to the castle. This was a rare occurrence; he almost never got sick. Injury and rarely anything else caused his many visits to Hogwarts hospital wing.
His stomach roiled as he got up and dressed. By the time he made it down the stairs he was feeling distinctly light-headed.
Halfway across the living room, a strong smell assaulted his nose and he had to pause to fight down a gag before dizzily finishing the short trip.
Tom was in the kitchen, attempting to cook bacon for breakfast. In reality he was burning it, making a fearsome mess of the pan. He jerked when Harry appeared in the doorway. Harry didn't catch any further reactions to his presence as the overbearing smell of the mutilated breakfast set off a war with his stomach that he was fast losing.
He bolted for the downstairs bathroom and flung open the toilet seat.
His stomach felt marginally calmer when he was done, but he was no where near ready to attempt to move anywhere. He hung his head, resisting the temptation to let it rest against the cool rim of the toilet. It hadn't been cleaned in a while and looking at it was making his stomach roll again.
He leaned all his weight on one trembling arm and pulled his glasses off, clutching them in one hand, no doubt covering the lenses in sweaty smears.
Footsteps approached the open bathroom door. Harry swallowed hard and leaned forward again, wrapping the hand holding his glasses around his middle. Water splashed in the sink. He started nevertheless when a damp cloth was draped over his neck.
"Better?" Tom's voice held no inflection at all. Warning alarms went off in Harry's head, quickly pushed aside as he lost control over his stomach again.
The humiliation of doing this in front of Tom made the situation worse than it already was. Tom probably knew it, too, the brat. Harry wished he'd go away.
After one last retch, which consisted of little more than intestinal fluids, Harry sat back cautiously. He pulled the washcloth off his neck and used it to wipe his forehead, then around his mouth.
Harry shakily put his glasses back on. Sure enough, they were covered in smears. Harry squinted, wrinkling his nose, then gave up trying to see clearly and just let his eyes unfocus a bit.
He wasn't completely sure his stomach was done, but he wasn't going to just sit here on the floor, not with Tom in the room. Cautiously, he reached for his cane, fallen just within reach, and began to stand.
He fell back to the floor with a cry of surprise when the cane provided all the stability of a cooked noodle. The limp wood flopped to the floor, right next to Tom's foot. Harry looked up to find a yew wand pointed at his nose.
Suddenly furious, he started to stand without the stupid cane. He made it to a kind of squatting crouch that had Tom taking a nervous step backward before pain drove him back down.
If he'd been in a chair, he might have made it, but from the floor? Not a chance.
Damn, but he felt old.
But it was no matter. He didn't need a wand to protect himself from a twelve year old.
Harry grabbed his cane again. It snapped back into form at his touch. Eyes narrowed and fixed on Tom, Harry began levering himself to his feet.
Tom stumbled backward from the purposefully underpowered curse, rapping his hip sharply against the doorway. Harry fell back to the floor, snatching the wand out of the air as it sailed past his head. He held it casually, studying the boy. Tom had gone quite pale.
Harry's magic was still erratic, though it did seem to be settling a bit. The fact that Tom hadn't been blown through the opposite wall under the force of his spell was testament to that.
Tom knew Harry's magical power was stronger lately, and that he was fully capable of wandless magic. It puzzled him that Tom would try to attack him, having been on the receiving end of that.
Harry flushed the toilet and closed the lid, pulling himself up onto it. This time, nothing happened to stop him.
He swung the wand between his fingers tantalizingly and perhaps somewhat mockingly, watching Tom's face.
Tom's jaw clamped shut, a poisonous glare his only answer to the unvoiced challenge.
Harry didn't care. He had the upper hand.
Tom's behavior over the past few days had been driving him mad. He was going to get some answers out of the kid, especially now that his ill thought out plan had been diverted and he was off balance. This little attack only solidified his decision. Tom had likely been waiting for a chance to catch Harry off guard before he made his move.
"You didn't tell me!" Tom finally burst out.
"Tell you what?" Harry asked, though he had a good idea. He wondered if Tom had actually noticed the book was open the very night Harry unlocked it and had simply been waiting for an opportune moment to bring the subject up.
"The Gaunts. You didn't tell me."
"The Gaunts? What's so special about the Gaunts?"
Tom's fists trembled. In fact, his whole body was trembling. He gave off an air of panicked, bewildered anger, as though he didn't know how to act and so had reverted to the familiar.
"I'm a descendant of Salazar Slytherin. One of the only ones left. I'm practically his only heir. And you didn't tell me."
"I let you have the book, didn't I?" Harry shook his head. "It doesn't make a difference either way."
"Of course it does!"
"I don't see how."
"I am Salazar Slytherin's heir." Tom said it slowly, as if Harry was the dumbest person on the planet.
"So? I'm part of Gryffindor's line."
Tom's jaw dropped.
"It really doesn't mean all that much, Tom. There might be a few heirlooms floating about in the family that I could get if their current owner dies. In your case, you've inherited one of his magical abilities. But there really isn't much more to it."
"Yeah. Not the most direct line, and not the only one. Gryffindor's family was a bit more, erm, prolific." Harry started ticking names off on his fingers. "There's the McGonagall's, the Prewitt's, and I think you'll be able to guess the most direct one."
Even though he seemed to be in a state of mild shock, Tom's brain was no less sharp.
"Dumbledore. Of course it's Dumbledore." Glaring, he drew himself up stiffly, saying rather nastily, "Is that why you act like he's God?"
Harry stiffened as well. "I do not-"
"Yes you do!" Tom stomped his foot. "You act like he's back from the dead!"
Harry bit down on his first instinct, which was to say "he is."
He knew this Dumbledore had never died. But Merlin, seeing the man that first time earlier this summer… Harry rather thought he'd feel the same way if Sirius came walking back out of the veil, looking as healthy and whole as if he'd never set foot in Azkaban.
Weariness settled over his shoulders. Such a heavy feeling should not be so familiar.
"He's-" Harry cut himself off, pushing his glasses up his nose. How could he explain without going into history Tom hadn't experienced? "He's in a very good position to help us." Or hinder them. And that would only increase in a few years time…
Tom snorted. Harry had the distinct feeling he would have rolled his eyes if it hadn't meant taking them off Harry, who still held his wand.
"How do you think he got to Diagon Alley so fast? He's got friends in the ministry. The public expects him to kill Grindelwald, and whether or not he actually does, he's going to have an insane amount of influence when this is all over. Do you really want a man like that as an enemy?"
But while that was true, it wasn't the whole reason, or even the most important one.
Harry had no one here. No one, except for a boy he still half expected to go on a homicidal rampage at a moment's notice. This Dumbledore wasn't his former mentor, for sure, but he was the only sentient being here that Harry had any kind of attachment to in his previous life.
He'd been doing fine, or perhaps he'd simply been in shock, until the man appeared on his doorstep. Once he left, loneliness akin to that he felt every summer at the Dursely's had descended on him, only this time it was much worse. This time he wouldn't be seeing his friends again at the end of the summer. He wouldn't be seeing any of them again for years, except Dumbledore.
And Hagrid. Harry vowed to himself that the half-giant would be able to finish his schooling this time around.
"That doesn't mean you have to let him walk all over you. He's not that influential."
"But he will be, don't you see?" Harry closed his eyes briefly, trying to break himself free of his nostalgia.
Tom scoffed. "So now you're a Seer as well, are you?"
"No!" Harry snapped, irritated. There. Nostalgia broken.
Tom shifted topics again, though the set of his jaw said the issue of the Transfiguration Professor would not be forgotten so easily.
"Then if it isn't the name, what is it?"
Harry stared at the boy, bewildered. "What?"
"If you don't care about Slytherin…" Tom wavered a bit, seeming unable to finish.
It finally dawned on Harry.
"You thought I adopted you because of an ancestor that lived a thousand years ago?" It would certainly help explain the boy's odd behavior these last few days, if he thought he'd found a solid way in which Harry had lied to him.
"I've told you why, Tom."
"I don't believe you!" Tom insisted.
"The only thing I want from you is someone I can call family. It's the truth, Tom, I swear."
Tom wavered. Harry kept eye contact.
"I don't believe you." But this time he didn't sound quite so certain.
"Give me a chance, Tom. Let me prove it to you." Harry swallowed. "Please."
Tom's expression closed completely. "You're a fool," he spat, and stormed from the room.
He would not feel sorry for himself. He would not be depressed, he would not be hurt, he would not be angry... he would be sick again if he didn't find someplace to lie down.
He grabbed the corner of the sink and hauled himself to his feet, staggering around to stand in front of it. He dropped the soiled cloth into it, propped his cane agains the door, washed his hands and rinsed his mouth, then leaned heavily on the counter, hands and chin dripping. Could he make it back up to his bedroom?
"Do you need help to the parlor?" asked an irritated voice right next to his ear. Harry started badly. He hadn't heard the boy come back. Harry scowled, pushed himself upright, and quickly caught himself again when his stomach reawoke with a warning twinge.
Tom muttered something derogatory. Harry straightened to turn his glare on the boy and had to catch himself on the doorframe this time as his knee protested. He bit back a frustrated groan. There was no way he was getting up to his room. He set off for the living room couch instead. Tom moved out of his way obligingly.
He paused when he got there, leaning heavily on the backboard of the couch, working up the energy to sit. The room still smelled of burnt bacon. Harry waved the windows open. He took a deep breath of the fresher air, walked around the side of the couch, and managed to lower himself onto it without too much fuss. He slipped down a bit, resting his head on the arm and sighing in relief at being somewhat horizontal again.
He still had Tom's wand. Harry reached forward to drop it onto the coffee table but missed. It fell to the floor instead.
To his surprise, Tom came into the room carrying a large bowl. "I don't want to clean it up if you get sick again and can't manage to make it back to the bathroom."
"Thanks," Harry muttered. "Your wand's on the floor," he added somewhat uselessly, as it had rolled into clear view from where the boy was standing. Tom set the bowl on the coffee table and picked it up without comment. Then he stood there.
"What?" Harry asked.
Harry really wasn't up for another round of this. "Fine." He closed his eyes, not quite secure enough to actually turn his back to Tom by rolling over.
Tom didn't leave. "Do you need a potion?"
"No." His glasses were digging into his nose and temple. Harry pulled them off. Tom seemed to take that as a signal to leave.
The next afternoon found Harry comfortably ensconced in his favorite chair in the library, flipping through one of the books he'd borrowed from Hogwarts' library.
He still felt a bit off and so was trying to take it easy for a few days but couldn't stand to simply sit around. He figured research was a good enough compromise.
He skimmed yet another page when something caught his eye. He went back to make sure he hadn't just imagined the minute detail. His jaw dropped. It couldn't be that simple.
According to the book, it was.
He cast a speculative glance at the window he was sitting under, then shook out his wand and cast at it. A slight glow indicated it had worked.
Harry groaned and stood, trying not to feel like an idiot as he moved to the next window.
Why, out of all the books he'd read, was this one the first to mention that weatherproofing charms had to be cast on the inside of the windows?
Tom and Harry entered Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, Tom's trunk on a trolley beside them. As he didn't have many things yet, only a few of them had been left at the house. Tom's 'trophies' were not among the things he'd left behind.
Tom had 'earned' back only a few of them, mostly through his continued help with meals. When he started packing his things for school, Harry gave the rest back without comment.
The book on Pureblood families, however, stayed.
"So, I suppose I'll see you this evening."
New teachers were given the choice of whether or not to take the Hogwarts Express, as taking it gave them a chance to get to know some of the students before classes started. Harry had opted not to, and would instead be Apparating to Hogsmeade that evening in order to attend the Welcoming Feast.
Tom nodded, shifting once before he stilled himself. Harry was uncomfortable as well. "Bye, then."
"Goodbye." Tom set off through the crowd, trunk in tow.
Harry faded back into the crowd, simply watching. When the train pulled out of the station, he left without a word to anyone, Apparating straight home.
The house seemed quiet, even though Tom was by no means a loud boy. Restless, Harry headed outside. He still had need of the cane, but short distances he could now do without trouble. Wolf met him halfway across the lawn and settled onto his shoulder.
They entered the woods silently, and soon were at the small family graveyard. Harry stepped unerringly to a simple stone, the newest of the lot, set into the ground.
He brushed a few leaves aside with his foot then simply stood, staring at the memorial. Determination filled him. He could do this. For his friends, he could make life here work.
Note: Harry threw up because the strong smell of the bacon didn't react well with his already queasy stomach, not because Tom had done something malicious to the food.
Once again, a huge thank you to everyone who has shown their support for this story.
NEW NOTE as of Nov. 12, 2006. The sequel is up! It's titled Becoming Brothers and can be gotten to via the regular means.