Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter, not getting any money for this.
I love the clichéd plot devices and just had to write a few stories using them myself. Unfortunately, my mind refuses to come up with anything fitting the norm and thus this is not what I intended it to be… hopefully you'll enjoy it anyway.
The first cliché I've decided to work on was the old and trusty journey in time.
Strangely enough, I haven't seen this explanation of Voldemort before. That's not to say it wasn't written, just that I thought of it myself. Aside from that, I've been inspired by a multitude of great Harry/Tom fanfic writers, all of which I could never recall, so at least a few names: Batsutousai, Shivani, EmpyrealFantasy, Tsurai no Shi, NatalieJ, achaean, Macvanaly, Dinkel…
Warnings: slash, sexual situations, strong language, violence, OC (not main characters), morally-ambiguous!Dumbledore (just like in canon), intelligent!Harry (not like in canon, but I can't help myself)
xChapter One: The Past
Harry wondered if his friends were missing him at all. He had been gone for weeks; the new school-year had started and so far there was not a clue about how he was going to get back to his time.
Time-displacement wasn't a lot of fun. Aside from the obvious issues, like being on his own, with no identity, no acquaintances, not a thing to his name and no real knowledge of anything specific to World War Second (past the Names of Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt), he had to get used to some pretty huge changes.
Case in point, Little Whinging had been built sometime during the latter half of the twentieth century. It had been quite the shock to Harry when he woke in the middle of a twelve-feet-long downwards fall and landed, hard, on a field of corn. Disoriented and, admittedly, scared, with only his wand clutched in his hand (it was lucky he even had the wand, but since Sirius's death he fell asleep every night holding it, with his hand under his pillow), dressed (which was also fortunate, and caused not by increased paranoia, but rather by his utter lack of give'a'damn) he had walked to the nearest town. There he had found, to his profound horror, that the date was the 1st of August 1943.
He had somehow made his way to London, located Charing Cross Road and, by a stroke of luck, got a summer job at the Leaky Cauldron. Mrs Dodderidge, his employer, was nice enough to provide him with food, a cot to sleep on and just enough money (after he had turned out to be so useful as to warrant it) to afford second-hand supplies for his sixth year at Hogwarts.
He had no idea how he was going to convince Dumbledore about who he was, where he had come from and that he meant nobody any harm. The war against Grindelwald was brewing and the atmosphere of fear and suspicion thickened every day, but he had to try. At least at Hogwarts he would have access to books on time-travelling and, perhaps, would be able to find out what happened to him and how to undo it.
Then, with a strike of Harry's legendary luck, every minor problem miraculously solved itself. In the beginning of the third week of the winter term, he was believed to be a previously home-schooled heir of a bastard branch of the Potter family, Sorted into Slytherin and immediately disowned by the contemporary Potters, whom he had the chance to meet only briefly. His background was something he had come up with after he got his Hogwarts letter (that had caught him by surprise, but it was rather a pleasant one) and realised that he would only have to convince Dippet with some sob-story, not Dumbledore. There had been an off-chance that Dippet knew Legilimency… but that worry turned out to be for naught.
Today, on the 14th of September 1943, Harry James Potter was eating his breakfast at the Slytherin table and trying to ignore the way his year's prefect was glaring at him. When his pumpkin juice began to bubble, boiled by the force of that glare, he looked up and glared right back.
Tom Riddle – and he was freakishly handsome at that age and, gods, how Harry hated that – and he had a brief glaring contest, which Harry won by sheer force of his hatred for the murderer of his parents (such a pity that slaughter on school grounds was unfeasible, or he would have solved that issue right now).
"What is your problem?!" Riddle hissed.
"You are my problem!" Harry retorted in a typical Gryffindor fashion, uncaring that he wasn't supposed to have known about any Tom Riddle even existing.
When Riddle's eyes widened in a surprise he was unable to hide, Harry figured that he must have done something stupid. He replayed the conversation – if one could call two hissed sentences a conversation – in his mind, groaned, and bashed his head against the table, having just enough foresight to aim next to his plate.
A busty blonde sat down next to Riddle (who briefly grimaced and then turned to her with a frosty smile) and simpered at him. He let her babble in between bites of some kind of vegetable, waiting for a moment when her attention was elsewhere, so that he could glare at Harry one more time and hiss: "This conversation isn't over."
Since Harry hadn't had his O.W.L. results to present, the staff had simply tested him in each class he was interested in taking, and either admitted or refused him. He passed Potions by the skin of his teeth (mostly because Slughorn wasn't as strict as Snape, and because the sixth year curriculum now encompassed potions he had learnt in fifth year in the nineties), and had no problems with Transfiguration (though he took care not to meet Dumbledore's eyes), Charms (taught by a young and yet more chipper than usually Flitwick) and Defence. Kettleburn kicked him out of Creatures, but it didn't really sting. Harry eventually decided to take Herbology, too, simply because it was a waste to not have at least five subjects. Besides, Professor Burrinah was cool, and believed in motivating his students rather than scaring them into submission or boring them into stupor. Harry suspected Burrinah was using the back of Greenhouse Six to grow 'medicinal' cannabis. Sprout didn't hold a candle to him.
…thus, with only five subjects, Harry had a lot of leisure time, whereas Riddle had twice as many classes and spent his rare free period in library.
After living with the boy in one room for two weeks, Harry had no qualms about admitting that Tom Riddle was a genius. He was also a jerk and had an odd, intellectual sense of humour which made Harry involuntarily laugh whenever he, accidentally, got the joke. Mostly he didn't, but it was still funny to watch as the Slytherins sucked up to the sixth-year Prefect while he totally snubbed them, which they didn't even notice.
Considering Riddle's plentiful social and academic obligations, it was a minor wonder that it only took him two days to catch Harry alone. Classes were over, Harry was working on his Transfiguration homework and there was a bit of a Quidditch-related House-wide free-for-all going on in the common room, so Harry had not expected anyone to come down into the dormitory.
He thought a couple of very vulgar words addressed to the person who disturbed him, even though they had the decorum to shut the door and do so quietly.
"Careful, Potter. You wouldn't want to fry your brain."
Harry didn't look up from his essay, but shifted his left hand so that his fingertips rested on the handle of his wand.
"I wouldn't want anyone else to fry my brain either," he replied and, much to his amazement, it made Riddle chuckle.
"An admirable sentiment," the Dark Lord in training said with a razor smile and sat down onto his bed, watching the back of Harry's bent neck. "Now that we have a bit of privacy… care to tell me how you can be a Parselmouth?"
This time Harry noticed when the speech shifted into Parseltongue; unfortunately, he had given himself out before, so there was no sense in denying that he understood the question.
Riddle chuckled again, deposited his bag and shoes under his bed and padded over to Harry, who found it beyond ironic that he was watching Voldemort that was wearing only his socks. And that thought sounded horribly wrong to him, because of course Riddle was wearing his uniform, every inch the picture of a pureblood heir, all the more perfect for the fact that he actually wasn't pureblooded.
He had the expression of aloof sympathy for those poor, poor wizards afflicted with less-than-pure-pedigree down to art, and he was aiming it at Harry right now.
"You are poor and lack the proper breeding, Harry Potter, but you are not stupid and I have noticed that you are more powerful than you pretend to be. Why hide?"
Harry suppressed a groan and cursed when a drop of ink fell from his quill and smeared across the parchment. Riddle leant over his shoulder and offhandedly erased it. Harry stared at the clean space, shocked by this particular boy doing something so seemingly unselfishly helpful, and waiting for the other shoe to fall.
"None of your business," he replied, but there was less bite in the sentence than he had intended to insert. He felt like he was losing, even though he hadn't noticed when the battle had started.
"You could find powerful friends if you just showed that power," Riddle hissed, not straight into Harry's ear, but close enough for it to be too close.
"I don't want that kind of friends," Harry replied, finally gathering enough ire to be fairly certain that his vulnerability would be hidden from Riddle when he met the boy's eyes. They were freaking blue – and wasn't that the most ridiculous thing Harry had ever seen?
"You don't want that kind of enemies," Riddle warned, the hiss gentle, though the prospect of threat was made clear, as though he thought that Harry had never faced any kind of danger before. He quite possibly did think that. After all, which home-school kid really knew anything about the real world?
"I've faced worse enemies," Harry concluded and turned back to his essay. He raised the quill, but paused before dipping the tip in the inkwell, because there was suddenly a warm hand on his shoulder.
"I don't know you, Potter. I don't really know anything about you. However, I think it would be a great loss to me and mine if you did not join us."
Harry thought quite a vicious 'Never!' but, fortunately, the Slytherin in him reared his head fast enough to prevent him from proclaiming it aloud.
By Christmas vacation, Harry had established himself as the generally uninteresting loner of the Slytherin house. He associated with some Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, but he had no real friends – mostly because he would have hated to abandon them. He researched time-travelling as much as it was possible while avoiding the librarian (he truly had no idea what she was called) and other students.
He achieved satisfactory marks in Herbology and Transfiguration, with some work passed Potions, topped Defence (which didn't make Riddle sour as he would have expected, rather caused him to ask Harry to be his partner for the end-of-term-project, which Harry politely declined) and tied with Riddle in Charms, where they were paired by the teacher and ended up – who didn't expect it? – working together, since Flitwick believed they would learn more if they challenged each other better. No one ever did (and ever would) challenge Riddle as well as Harry could.
The vast majority of the student body had gone home – anyone who had anyone, really, in case they saw them for the last time – and Riddle and Harry had the sixth-years' dorm all to themselves, which drove Harry to hiding… although he wasn't all that successful.
"I've found this in my first year," a familiar – and hated, Harry reminded himself – voice shattered the silence of the Room of Requirement. "I never thought anyone else knew about it."
Harry sighed and rolled over on his studying rug. He should have created the room with a lock on the inside. Now it was too late…and the shelves Riddle was currently perusing were filled with books on time-travel.
"This makes odd kind of sense," Riddle remarked, pulling out a leather-bound tome. He leafed through it, closed it and put it back, before turning to face Harry. His eyes were shining, and it made his entire expression alive.
Harry gulped. Riddle wasn't handsome. He was freaking beautiful.
"You actually are a pureblood, aren't you?"
Harry didn't answer that. He didn't want Riddle to know he was half-blooded; on one hand would have made him easier to identify in the future ('Harry Potter' wasn't exactly an ordinary name among wizards) and on the other might have made him actively ostracised in Slytherin.
Riddle took his silence to mean acquiesce.
"You are the Potter scion… from the future, because you know my name. You know me." The boy came to a halt standing above Harry, who was propped on his elbows, looking up at the bane of his existence and understanding completely why people fell under his thrall.
"And you can't tell me anything, because it would create a paradox."
Harry was startled. He had honestly expected to be interrogated and eventually tortured for information on the future. Riddle's effortless acceptance of the non-disclosure of that information was another shocking instance. He thought that if Draco Malfoy had been anything like Tom Riddle, Harry would have begged the Sorting Hat to put him into Slytherin in his first year, regardless of Hagrid's and Ron's opinions.
Riddle squatted and then sat down without the help of his hands.
"Anything you can tell me?"
Harry considered it. He didn't want anyone to know about him, but perhaps a tiny bit of inconsequential information could bribe Riddle into giving him an Oath to not speak of Harry's true origin to anyone… and yes, he realised he was being overambitious, but he was used to taking risks and this teenage version of the once-and-again Dark Lord didn't really scare him.
"I could tell you some things… but only if you swear on your magic not to tell anyone." He knew Riddle's life was dearest to Riddle, but his magic came as close second.
There was a lengthy silence, but eventually Riddle must have decided that it was worth it.
"I swear on my magic that I shan't communicate the circumstances of your arrival here to anyone."
"If I see the loophole there, Riddle, it wasn't that cunning," Harry mocked. Honestly – 'circumstances of arrival'? This oath would have let Riddle speak to anyone about Harry's previous life, as long as he didn't say anything about the time-travel part and let everyone draw the obvious conclusion themselves.
The boy smiled.
Harry realised that he shouldn't let himself be surprised by the reactions of someone who was totally unpredictable.
"I had to try," he said with a shrug, and Harry found himself smiling, too.
"Now, think of one where I won't find the loophole." It was inconceivable to Harry that he was bantering about life-and-death decisions with Tom Riddle. He was literally playing with the Grim Reaper.
"How about this: I swear on my magic that I shall keep all your secrets."
White light flashed, making the Oath binding, and Harry was left gaping at the boy. Unpredictability was one thing, but such a foolish trust? What did Riddle want and how would he accomplish it by tying himself so all-encompassingly?
"Why?" he asked, meeting Riddle's eyes.
"Because I truly believe that, despite your unwillingness and reticence, you are worth it."
Harry gulped again, reminding himself that he hated, hated that voice. It didn't make him tingly, no, not at all. It didn't make his breath hitch or his heart-rate speed up, and if the latter coincidentally happened, it was because he was either scared to be so close to Riddle or because Riddle made him angry.
Yes, that was exactly what it was.
"You've used a pseudonym in the future," Harry started quietly, picking out facts he didn't think mattered. "Your reputation was such that the name itself gained power."
"Voldemort…" Riddle said, with just a hint of awe. Now, perhaps for the first time, Harry realised that this Tom Riddle was truly just sixteen, just as uncertain about his future as Harry was, just as hopeful and just as naďve (that is to say less than any of their peers, but more than a real adult).
"Voldemort," Harry agreed, feeling no need to point out that the name actually wasn't even spoken for the fear of it, substituted with the banal You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. "I have known your name because you have committed atrocious crimes," he said, watching Riddle's awe disappear, replaced by apprehension and seriousness.
"No revolution happens without death and destruction. I am a visionary, Harry. My goals are a better future for wizards and a safer world for the children to grow up in. I-"
"I know about your childhood," Harry cut him off, sitting up because his back and arms were starting to ache. "I also know about at least one child you have doomed to a similar one," he added harshly, keeping the sneer from his face simply because it made no sense to blame this boy for something he was going to do decades later.
Riddle's forehead creased and something akin to pain flashed in his eyes.
"I… regret that…"
Harry didn't doubt the truthfulness of that statement.
"You can't tell me who, can you? I mean… I can't prevent it?"
Harry seriously contemplated it. He could not prevent Voldemort from going after him. Whatever he now told Riddle wouldn't affect his decision later. There must have been some sort of fail-safe mechanism time used to protect the spatio-temporal continuum from imploding. Perhaps he would be struck mute if he tried to disclose something he shouldn't disclose, or flung back into his own time… that actually wasn't a bad idea!
"Me," he said. "That child was me."
Then Harry saw something he doubted many people have seen. Tom Riddle stared at him, his eyes wide and moist, his lower lip trembling.
There was about a minute of silence when neither of them knew what to say. Eventually Harry broke it.
"It doesn't really matter anymore."
Tom released the lip he had bit on to stop it from trembling. It was red and puffy and attracted Harry's attention quite worrisomely.
"I'm sorry," the boy said.
It must have been a miracle. Perhaps the one single thing Tom Riddle was still vulnerable to – the thought of a neglectful or abusive childhood inflicted upon the helpless. Harry had tried to picture Tom Riddle as a teenager before (or later, if one wanted to see it chronologically), and he always imagined someone like Malfoy, petty and cruel, only more intelligent, better with words and with a tad more charisma.
Tom Riddle was the furthest thing from petty and, although he would mature into a supremely cruel man, it was undeniable that, at this point in time, he had yet a shred of compassion left.
When Harry finished that line of contemplation, Riddle was once again calm and only faint red teeth-marks on his lower lip suggested that anything had transpired. Harry half-expected the boy to ask for reciprocal confidentiality, but then realised that it wasn't necessary, because Harry couldn't tell anyone anyway, since it would lead to questions about his sources.
"Anything more you can tell me?"
Harry tried to think of something that wouldn't give the boy a lead, but couldn't. Then he recalled a piece of history seemingly untied to Tom Riddle, but apparently an integral part of his younger years.
"Dumbledore defeated – is going to defeat – Grindelwald in summer 1945."
Riddle nodded. "Alright. Thanks. That's helpful."
"You weren't planning on joining him, were you?" Harry asked, startled. He had thought Grindelwald was defeated before… well… now that he counted again, Riddle might have graduated by the time…
"No, but some of my… associates were, if only to observe techniques. When were you born?"
Harry blinked at the non sequitur, but shook his head as soon as his mind caught up with the question.
"Can't tell you that. Look, Riddle, I'll tell you if I think of something else, but right now I've got some research to do…"
For a while the boy stared at him appraisingly, then nodded and stood up, again without the aid of his hands. Harry noticed, belatedly, that he was keeping a plain muggle journal half-hidden under his robe.
Despite all the naivety and idealism, Tom Riddle was far from innocent.
"Did you hear?" Lucretia asked Walburga quite loudly, apparently intending for the whole common room to hear. Harry, huddled in a warm corner near a fireplace and absorbed in a book, didn't bother to lift his head.
Walburga's and Lucretia's malicious gossip sessions were a daily occurrence in the Slytherin common room. Harry considered it normal – after seven months spent there, he felt more at home in the dungeons than he would have felt in the Gryffindor Tower. He missed Ron and Hermione, certainly, but it slowly became a vague yearning, a nostalgic, cherished memory rather than a burning motivation to get back. He also realised, after reading so many books on time-travel, that he was too used to thinking linearly – the fact that he had spent so much time in the past didn't mean that he couldn't return into the same moment when he had left, or even earlier.
"What?" Walburga queried curiously. Her voice would not change much – she would not change much at all. At eighteen she was the same screeching harpy as the one depicted on the painting in Grimmauld Place.
"They're going to close the school!"
Harry was probably the only one who noticed Riddle sitting up straighter, and that was just because he had been watching for a reaction. He knew what was going to happen later tonight – he had seen the memory. Hagrid was going to be expelled.
Harry had noticed several people he knew (had known/would know) that were going to school at this time – most notably Hagrid, McGonagall and Augusta future Longbottom (he had no idea what was her maiden name). Also, Slytherin was crowded with familiar names – Lucretia, Walburga, Orion and Cygnus Black, Ignatius Prewett, Druella Rosier, Olive Hornby, Alastor Moody. It was eerie, but Harry had learnt not to mind.
"Why?" came, yelling, from many sides.
Lucretia was smirking smugly, feeling important. "Because ugly little Stewart was killed, and nobody knows who's done it," she drawled, looking around the room as if she was searching for the culprit.
Riddle's expression betrayed absolutely nothing.
Harry knew he was taking a great risk, but he had a piece of parchment covered with notes and references for the books he had used and it looked solid. He would have to avoid Dumbledore's eyes, but there should have been enough evidence to make it work.
"Yes, Mr Potter?" the younger, auburn-haired and power-radiating Albus Dumbledore replied, looking over the rim of his half-moon spectacles in his customary patronising way.
"I… wanted to talk to you… in private if I could, please?"
He knew Dumbledore distrusted him – it was apparent in the lessons, where he was treated the same way as Riddle. Harry didn't really blame the man, since here he was a Slytherin with no personal history who fancied himself neutral in all political matters, and that never bode well. He was a wild card which no one knew how to control.
They didn't converse during the walk to Dumbledore's office, although the man filled the silence with chatter about some kind of outlandish dish Harry had never even heard of. Eventually they sat down, each on their respective side of the Head's desk, and Harry almost let himself slip into the familiar routine, when he remembered that he couldn't let this Dumbledore look into his eyes.
The situation rapidly stopped being comfortable.
"Now, care to tell me what troubles you, Mr Potter?"
"It's actually about Hagrid, sir," Harry said, fidgeting. He put the parchment on the table and pushed it towards Dumbledore. "I was curious about how he'd done it, so I looked into it a bit, but the creature he had was an arachnid, and they can't kill except with poison… but Stewart wasn't poisoned, right? So it couldn't have been Hagrid. It makes no sense…"
Harry decided it was enough drama for the moment and sat back, purposely breathing hard. Dumbledore was observing him closely.
"And why would you have gone to such lengths to clear the name of a student you have no ties to, Mr Potter?"
Harry looked up, a mask of indignation on his face, but Dumbledore raised a hand.
"Don't misunderstand me, my boy."
Harry gritted his teeth at the address, but let it pass. He had to pick his battles.
"I commend your effort – I am merely curious as to your personal motivation."
Harry had actually expected this question and he had the answer ready. "If it wasn't Hagrid, sir, than the k-killer is still here… I don't want to die!" Harry raised his voice to the end, just as he had rehearsed it. It was a wonderful performance. Now he just had to hope Dumbledore wouldn't see through it. Harry couldn't let Hagrid rot in Azkaban, and he had never heard about how Hagrid got out save that Dumbledore had intervened. Therefore it was quite possible that it was Harry himself who had presented the information needed to for Hagrid to get off.
It was actually kind of poetic.
"Ah, self-preservation." Yes, Dumbledore swallowed it, hook, line and sinker. "A wonderful trait, and especially important to your fellow House-mates. It is good to see it put to such an altruistic use."
Harry tried to look as indignant as he possibly could, before blanking his face. He was a Slytherin – supposed to take any advantage. He gave Dumbledore a wan smile.
"Is that all?" the man asked benignly.
"Just… one more thing, sir. I'd like it if you could keep my involvement quiet. My House-mates dislike Hagrid and some of them were… happy… about his incarceration. I'd rather live without the fear of retribution…"
"Certainly, my boy." Dumbledore smiled at him. "Is there anything else?"
Harry shook his head, eager to be out of the Lion's den as soon as possible.
"Then run along, Mr Potter. And thank you in the name of Mr Hagrid."
Despite the nerve-wracking quality of the meeting, it had gone quite well. In fact, it had been suspiciously easy. Dumbledore had been pleased as punch that Harry had had the initiative to address him about the matter… Maybe he thought Harry was almost ripe to be made into a whisperer? He was positioned perfectly for it – in Slytherin dungeons, sharing a dormitory room with young Voldemort himself, on friendly terms with many of the suspected Dark students – but, boy, did he have the wrong temperament! He was way too obstinate to become a puppet on anyone's strings, and Dumbledore wasn't absolutely good in the same way Riddle wasn't absolutely evil.
They were just enemies, and this time Harry had the power to decide not to come between them.
Well, Dumbledore had been – rightly – suspicious of Riddle since the start, possibly ever since Riddle's first year. It would stand to reason that Dumbledore had ascribed Stewart's killing to the future Dark Lord and simply left Hagrid to the tender care of dementors the very same way he would one day leave Sirius. Interesting, how even in cases of willful murder the Law Enforcement didn't take the pains to try Veritaserum on the suspects before throwing them into Azkaban.
Riddle wasn't completely wrong in his opinion that the wizarding world needed a shakeup. Its judicial system was a sham. Hogwarts was a breeding ground for future soldiers and cannon fodder. Kids were being taught to hate the other Houses the same way they were being breastfed Light or Dark ideology at home. The weaker ones left Hogwarts practically brainwashed, as future Ministry employees, Aurors, Wizengamot members or Death Eaters, oftentimes belonging to more than one of those groups.
Round the corner, the back of Harry's robe was grasped and he was thrown against a wall. A moment later his wrists were gripped and pressed into the stone, two sets of nails breaking his skin.
"What the fuck was that, Potter?" an unnaturally sibilant voice hissed into his ear. Harry clenched his teeth to stop the whimper of pain.
"Hagrid didn't deserve it. He's a nice man…" he replied, as if it mattered. Tom Riddle couldn't be bothered about guilt or innocence.
"He's not a man and not a wizard! He didn't belong here any more than the mudbloods do-"
"And what about you?!" Harry hissed, kicking Riddle's shin. One of his wrists was released and, surprisingly, hurt more than when it was being squeezed. "Your own father was a muggle! You knew nothing about the wizarding world before-"
"You know shit about me!"
Riddle never was one for physical fighting – didn't have the physique for it – so Harry threw himself to the side just in time to avoid a curse. He leapt forwards, effectively startling Riddle with doing the opposite of what he was expected to do – doing the Gryffindor thing.
Harry managed to shove the boy backwards onto the floor, but ended up falling on him. The yew wand was clutched in both their hands, Riddle's right and Harry's left, and… nothing else happened.
Harry took a couple of breaths to cool down and said: "You are a killer, Tom Riddle, a merciless killer who is more of a monster than any of your victims."
"Is that what you think about me?" Riddle asked quietly, falling back into English.
Harry wondered. This boy was twisted and power-hungry, but he was yet far from the homicidal maniac Harry had encountered in his first year. Not yet a monster – just misguided.
"But I will be…" the boy said knowingly, completely calm lying beneath Harry's not insignificant weight.
"You will be," Harry confirmed.
Riddle sighed. "That's not my intention," he hissed softly, rolling Harry off of himself and sitting up. "I've told you what I want to achieve – I don't… Do you know what happened that made me lose the way?"
Harry, also sitting up, shook his head. "I've never even known what your original goal was. There's just fear and death and pointless torture. Quest for domination and… immortality." He might have been disclosing too much now, but the universe had yet to implode. "I just kind of always assumed that the Dark Arts twisted you."
"Dark Arts…" Riddle whispered. "I love Dark Arts. It's the best thing there is… It must have been something else, Harry. The Dark Arts provide a way; they do not change their wielder. The opportunities they offer might affect the judgment, but they don't crawl inside your head and scramble your brains."
"Then I don't know," Harry concluded in English, stood up and walked away, massaging his bruised and bloodied forearms.
"Where are you going for the holidays?" Riddle asked when he found Harry packing his meagre possessions. They were, once again, alone in the room. Harry stopped being so hyper-aware in the boy's presence, going as far as to relax once in a while. He felt that the time he was living in changed him – not that it 'crawled into his head and scrambled his brains', but that it 'provided opportunities' that made Harry react differently than he would have reacted before. For instance, people left him alone without being threatened into it. He had time to spend by himself, time to read, to study, to learn… He had time to become his own person instead of some kind of Boy Who Lived wannabe.
"Not sure yet," he replied honestly. He hoped that Mrs Dodderidge would employ him again, but was quite prepared to search for another job in Diagon Alley or muggle London. "I'll be working, so I can afford to come back next year."
Tom blinked and sat down in a chair next to Harry's. "There's a fund for those who can't afford the things…" he said carefully. As a muggle-raised student, Riddle wouldn't have known about such fund without having had need of it himself. However, to Harry that didn't present a solution.
"To give me a grant, Dippet would need to speak to my guardian. I don't have a guardian and I… don't want to accompany you for the summer if they found out."
Riddle grimaced and Harry just barely stopped himself from wincing. Then, prodded by a compassion for this boy, he said another totally Gryffindor thing: "If you want, I could come see you?"
"You would?" Riddle sounded shocked.
Harry shrugged. "I won't have much better to do, except work and essays I am sure you could help with. I grew up among muggles, so there shouldn't be a problem with that… as long as you give me an address…"
Riddle, temporarily speechless, nodded.
Harry found employment quite easily, working for 'Flourish and Blotts' and 'Slug and Jiggers', both part-time. He earned enough at the bookshop and had decent lodgings and food from the owner of the Apothecary, so it worked out for him.
Thus, on the second Sunday of July, he could be found in newly purchased second-hand muggle clothes standing in front of the St Mary's Orphanage. The place was clean, but that was about all the positives that Harry could say about it. There were groups of children playing games in the courtyard, all of them thin, all having eyes slightly older than they should have had, some with bruises here and there, but they did not look as unhappy as one might have expected. Perhaps it was the sunny almost-noon that lifted the spirits.
He located the one person he was searching for after about five minutes of looking. Riddle was sitting in a shadow, leaning back against a pillar, nose in a book. Harry found himself smiling as he wound his way in between the tag-playing boys and girls and approached the peristyle.
"Morning," he said, because he couldn't think of anything smarter. Riddle instinctively went for his wand, which, Harry noticed, he was keeping on his person, but stopped before actually drawing.
"You must have a death wish," he grumbled and reached out, wordlessly asking for a hand-up.
"I must," Harry agreed easily, which left the other boy without a smart comeback. "Is there somewhere you want to go, or do we stay here..?"
Riddle looked around and sneered at the crowd of kids – an expression surprisingly reminiscent of Draco and Lucius Malfoy. Someone took hero worship a bit far there…
"I can sneak out. Worst that could happen is I'd be sent to bed without supper. Happens every other day anyway," he grumbled, and moodily kicked a stone.
Harry, knowing exactly how being sent to bed on empty stomach felt, sympathised.
"I'll buy you lunch," he offered. He had enough money for that and could afford to spend it. It wasn't much, but certainly enough for two underfed teenage boys to eat their fill.
"I can't refuse that charming invitation," Riddle griped, but Harry had observed him for the past ten months and knew that look in his eyes to be one of gratitude. Riddle was happier about a plebeian lunch then he would have been about an evening at the Opera (which was touring right now because the theatre had been closed, so tough luck on that).
That first meeting morphed fairly quickly into a political debate over glasses of coke and a packet of crisps. Riddle on a war path was similar to Hermione in his fervour, but different in that he had a good idea about how the government really worked and how to promote an idea to gain supporters for it. Apart from that, Riddle also had his arguments backed by research.
Harry couldn't quite keep away after that. He returned on the next Sunday and the next one, each time taking Riddle out and buying him a lunch, while Riddle gave him pointers for Potions, Herbology and Transfiguration, and taught him things about wizarding culture Harry had had no idea about.
They spoke of their philosophies and opinions, and Harry, much to his surprise, found that, when faced with sufficient evidence, Riddle could change his mind. Somewhere along the line Riddle managed to coax Harry into actually calling him 'Tom' and accepting some of the changes he was proposing. Harry was by no means a converted follower, but certainly a sympathiser to a part of the memorandum.
The 1st of September 1944 fell on Friday. Harry, with an Apparition Licence so new that the ink was still fresh, picked up Tom at half past ten, exchanging a couple of phrases with Mrs Cole, the less than impressive head matron of the less that impressive institute. Harry without a qualm introduced himself as the Apprentice to Mr Dumbledore, whom Cole knew from a previous visit, and hopefully one day a renown Transfiguration Master himself. Tom, doing his best wide-eyed innocent expression was looking at Harry with awe, and that finally convinced the woman to let the two boys leave, believing Harry to actually be an adult supervisor. Thus Harry's first Side-Along Apparition included Tom Riddle as a reluctant, but safely reassembled passenger.
The platform was packed and the two boys appeared in the midst of chaos. Thanking all four Founders for a Shrinking Charm, which saved them the bother of lugging trunks behind them, Harry and Tom boarded, ignoring the curious and mostly disapproving looks they were getting from all sides.
Harry drifted past the occupied compartments in a haze, mentally going over what had happened at the orphanage. The Cole woman wasn't very bright, and there was a hateful undertone to her rigid politeness (Tom had learned the sneer he would later teach to his Death Eaters from her), but she was working around children and well used to their tricks. She might have been scared of Tom and predisposed to give him whatever he asked for just so she would be rid of him, but even so, it had gone too smoothly.
Tom glanced at him expectantly.
Harry shrugged off the weight of that gaze and thought about Tom's awe-inspiring acting skills. Harry had, sort of, maybe, put one over Dumbledore, but it took all he had. Tom deceived Dumbledore practically on daily basis, to such a degree that Dumbledore had adopted a 'guilty until proven innocent' approach to him. Tom could convey emotions that weren't actually genuine frighteningly credibly.
He had, likely, used it on Harry, too. Harry wouldn't have known. Wouldn't have known to watch for it – who the heck expects that kind of deception from a sixteen-year-old? Had the remorse about screwing up Harry's childhood been fake? And Tom's intermittent kindness – was that just manipulation?
Tom opened the door to a compartment for Harry and ushered him in, before Harry could protest that he didn't want to turn his back. It was an absurd objection, anyway – Harry routinely slept in the same room as Tom.
They sat down. Tom narrowed his eyes at Harry. When that garnered no response, he settled and glared out of the window at the families milling about on the platform.
"What are you waiting for me to ask?" Harry inquired, and cast a Silencing Spell.
Tom's head whipped around so quickly it was a wonder he didn't sprain his neck. "How?"
Harry chuckled. It was such an un-Slytherinish response it deserved a little revenge.
"Okay. How?" he said with a completely straight face.
Tom narrowed his eyes. "You're the only one who dares me to lose my temper, Harry," he hissed.
Harry laughed, knowing full well that Tom would come up with revenge, yet at the same time – perhaps naively – believing that it would be one fitting the 'crime' of teasing.
"How did you know I was waiting for you to ask something?"
Harry shrugged. "Guess I just know you."
Tom gave him a look too serene for his seventeen-year-old face. There were plans being made and discarded behind those blue eyes, and Harry wondered if he should be worried – if, one day, Tom would decide that he couldn't tolerate anyone who actually could predict him part of the time.
"I have been appointed as the Head Boy," Tom stated, observing Harry closely to make sure he didn't miss the spontaneous reaction, should Harry attempt to hide it. There was no surprise though.
"I knew you would be," Harry replied simply and recovered a book from his pocket, Shrunk independently from the rest of the luggage.
"Sometimes," Tom paused to rethink whether he really wanted to say his thoughts aloud, but eventually decided to continue, despite it being an admission of his own shortcoming. "Sometimes it's easy to forget where you come from. You're a Hogwarts student, learning the same things, thinking and acting the same – or almost the same – way. Sometimes I don't think about you as anyone but my…" This time the pause was longer and Tom's face became shuttered before he finished the sentence: "…class-mate."
Harry wasn't happy about what he did next, but life in Slytherin taught ruthlessness effectively.
"Oh, you don't think of me as your class-mate, Tom," Harry said, deliberately using Parseltongue to affect the boy as much as he possibly could. "You don't think of me as an 'associate'."
The fact that Harry didn't know what Tom thought of him wasn't as relevant. The point was to see the future Dark Lord flustered – or as flustered as he got. Tom had the in-built reflex to resort to anger instead of floundering that would lead to embarrassment.
"Oh, so now you can read my mind, too!"
"Hardly. Failed my Occlumency lessons – wouldn't even try Legilimency on a sentient being," Harry retorted, enjoying the rare bit of colour adorning Tom's cheeks. Tom Riddle was, indeed, quite beautiful.
"You cannot… I'll teach you," Tom asserted.
Harry understood perfectly that it was meant to be an order rather than a suggestion, but he wouldn't stand for it.
"Thank you for that kind offer," he said with a heavy sarcasm, "but I'll pass."
"I've been tortured quite enough, thanks," Harry hissed forcefully. "I won't let you or anybody else traipse through my mind-"
Tom's face rapidly shifted into a fair approximation of Harry's own scowl. "Traipse through your mind? What- Who the fuck tried to teach you?"
Harry met Tom's eyes in a brief glaring contest, which was becoming something of a tradition between them, enjoyable still because they never could predict which one would win. This time it was Tom.
"A guy who hated my guts," Harry grumbled. "Appointed by the venerable old coot Albus Dozen Middle Names Dumbledore."
Once Tom stopped chuckling, he took it upon himself to actually explain how one should go about clearing their minds and building mental shields. Needless to say, Harry learnt more during that train-ride than he had during all his previous Occlumency lessons.
"I hate Halloween," Harry proclaimed, sat down in front of Tom's armchair and leant back, resting his head against the side of Tom's thigh.
The boy looked down at him with a mixture of curiosity and amusement directed at the rest of the common room, which was unabashedly staring at Harry, whose familiarity with the uncrowned Prince of the dungeons was unprecedented. Not even Lucretia, who had at one point spread (false) rumours about her being Tom's lover had ever had the gall to actually touch Tom without being invited to do so.
The evolvement was quite unexpected and seemed to have happened sometime during the summer, though Harry could not pinpoint an actual occasion. Neither he nor Tom had any inclination to touch other people, but somehow came to accept it from each other with ease. Harry suspected it might have been due to their similar background – both the shrinking away from people and the acceptance.
"Why?" Tom asked disinterestedly, going back to his book and listening with half an ear.
Harry wasn't having it. "I'm not telling you in front of everybody," he snapped. "Especially not if you're asking without being interested in the answer," he added and recovered a corrected and marked Defence test from his bag, unrolling it and looking up the mistakes he had made. To no surprise of his, there was not a dot of red until the very end, where Professor Merrythought scribbled 105 percent and circled the number.
"I didn't know it was serious," Tom hissed by way of a supposed apology. His contriteness was most likely so much bullshit, but Harry couldn't tell.
"When have I ever proclaimed my hate of anything and not meant it?" Harry replied demurely, counting on the chatter around them to drown out the quiet hissed conversation, especially since they both were seemingly absorbed in their reading and there was nothing to suggest any kind of communication was going on between them.
"You never said you hated anything," Tom admitted. "It's actually strange. Everyone has strong dislikes."
"I hate the woman that killed my Godfather. I thought…" Harry raised his head and Tom actually met his eyes this time, even though his face was upside-down, "I thought I hated the man that killed my parents."
Tom, about the smartest person Harry had ever met (possibly including Dumbledore and definitely including Hermione), put the meaning together immediately. He went paler and a bit grey, and his lower lip trembled faintly, reminding Harry of the time they had met in the Room of Requirement.
"Shit…" Tom gasped. "I should have… shit."
This time the conversation attracted attention from the by-sitters, and Harry didn't want to continue it in front of them. He also forbade himself from looking for hints of Tom's possible insincerity.
"How can you even… why…"
"Dorm," Harry hissed, stood up and walked away.
Tom followed practically on his heels. Within half a minute the door was shut, locked and warded and Tom let go for once, slamming his entire bag into the nearest wall, shattering the inkwell inside it and probably soaking all his books and notes, but not caring one whit.
"How could you not tell me? How?! How can you even stand to talk to me?! You said I was a monster, I committed atrocities, but, for Salazar's sake, I killed your bloody parents! I… I killed…"
Tom sank to his knees and a moment later was joined by Harry, who gripped his jaw strongly enough to leave bruises and forced him to look up.
"You did shit! Lord Voldemort will kill my parents someday in the future, but you're a freaking seventeen-year-old and, as far as I know, you've only killed four people!"
Tom jerked as if he was struck, but didn't manage to free his jaw from Harry's grip. "You know about them too…"
How much of Tom was a cold, calculating sociopath and how much just an abused kid with a cauldronful of issues? How much dramatic talent did he have? Harry wanted to believe that this fit, at least, was real. He was growing too close to Tom Riddle – now, belatedly, he realised that somewhere along the way they had crossed the line of friendship – and any further entanglement just meant Harry setting himself up.
It came down to the fact that he wanted to believe Tom. He felt almost rejuvenated by his resolution, and it was all too easy to look into Tom's eyes and let himself see the need for reassurance therein.
"Look, it wasn't easy to get over it. You wondered more than a year ago what was my problem with you – well, that was my problem. But you're not Voldemort yet. You're Tom Riddle. And I can't treat you like I would Voldemort."
"You're unbelievable!" Tom exclaimed with a chuckle that sounded a tad hysterical. "You're totally bonkers." He took several deep breaths and eventually calmed down enough to lean against somebody's bed and close his eyes. "You said I doomed you to an abusive childhood – should have realised."
Harry shook his head, even though the other boy couldn't see it at the moment. "You've only done a half of it. The other half is Dumbledore's to answer for. I mean, killing my parents was pretty nasty from you, but you weren't the one who gave me to a couple of bigoted muggles without so much as by your leave and hadn't bothered to check on my living conditions for years."
"One day I'll see that man dead. And I'll laugh," Tom promised.
Harry honestly could not object. He had no deep-seated hatred of Dumbledore, but the resentment gathered during his fifth and sixth year had grown into strong antagonism.
"If you'll live that long," Harry muttered, shocking even himself when he realised he actually hoped that Tom would live that long.
"I got you something," Tom said on the way to breakfast of the 25th of December.
"I got you something, too," Harry replied. They met each other's eyes and Legilimentically conveyed their mutual distaste for the holiday and the reason they excluded each other from the boycott of traditions. Conversely, Harry had gotten good enough at both Occlumency and Legilimency for him to confidently meet Albus Dumbledore's twinkling gaze during Transfiguration classes.
Harry reached into his pocket and brought out a crudely wrapped tiny package. Tom did not look disappointed at all, rather expectant. He ripped the parchment and for a moment just took in the stone that had been in it. It looked unremarkable on the first glance, but once he realised what it was…
"Pretty trinket," he said in a tone that might have been serious or sarcastic.
Harry knew it was his way to hide discomfort and didn't let it bother him. "Figured I'd give you something practical – swiped it from the Apothecary while cleaning. Old man never noticed it missing. Not too good with his math, I suspect." Harry also knew he wasn't nearly as good at hiding his own discomfort. He glanced at Tom quizzically.
The little bastard leered at him. "I've left yours in the dorm. You'll get it later."
A moment later Tom was dodging jinxes until he had a chance to draw and shield.
Harry had to catch himself and bite his tongue innumerable times during the day, but he had succeeded in doing to Tom what Tom had planned to do to him (and managed, though Harry wasn't likely to let him know) – drive the other one up the wall with curiosity.
They got back to their room around nine in the evening. Harry feigned exhaustion, went through his ablutions and slid into his bed, drawing the cover over his head, all under the disbelieving near-gape of one Tom Riddle.
It wasn't until Harry started to get bored pretending to be asleep and counting three seconds between each inhale that Tom lost the contest.
"Harry Potter, you are evil!" he hissed desperately, and Harry just couldn't keep the laughter in. It burst out and he fought off the cover and rolled over to look at Tom – who was really very beautiful all flushed and with angry lightning in his eyes.
For a moment the boy stared, not understanding, and then it dawned on him. He crossed the distance and sank onto the edge of Harry's bed, in his hands holding a package that was much neater than the one Harry had given to him. The lightning disappeared from his eyes and all that was left was an odd glow that didn't hold an iota of malice.
"Sorry, Tom," Harry offered, "but you admit you deserved it…"
"Probably…" Tom replied absently and reached out to deposit the present into Harry's lap. "I wanted to give you something magical."
Harry unpacked it with the utmost care, not ripping the wrapping even though he knew he would probably just throw it away later. Inside it was a simple frame.
"It's meant for muggle photographs," Tom explained. "Makes them move. I know you don't have any now, but one day you're probably going to…"
Harry smiled, at the frame and at Tom. In all his years, no one who knew incomparably more about his history than Tom had ever came up with something that perfect for him. He had no idea what to say but: "Thanks."
It seemed to be enough.