Whoopsie...anyone who got right on the ball of reading got an accidental look at my notes of what's going to happen next. I'm tired, and I didn't get the right spot when I moved those notes into a new document. Apologies to Aenaed, Pickles and Cream, and anyone else who might have gotten a peek.
The problem has been corrected. :)
I do apologize for the delay. An explanation has been posted on my author profile.
I am going to be on a plane headed for Las Vegas in about four hours, where drunken shenanigans will ensue. And I haven't slept at all yet. But I couldn't leave before I got something out. It's not as far as I intended to get, but I hope to have more for you when I return from my debauchery.
Thanks again for all the reviews!
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Tom sighed, as much as it was possible for a panther to do so, as he pawed his way out of the Chamber of Secrets and on to Hogwarts grounds. He had done all he could for the evening. The only active agents he had in the castle were Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape—both of whom despised Harry. He didn't trust that they wouldn't help Harry along.
As he reached the edge of the wards, his sensitive feline nose caught a whiff of a coppery scent. He was intimately familiar with this particular scent, in both feline and human forms.
Before he could even think about it, he was racing toward the scent, mentally chanting "No, no, no, no, no!"
But when he reached the source of the scent, it was everything he had feared it would be. Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, lay cold and still on the ground. Scarlet blood pooled all around him. His chest was unmoving.
Tom found himself back in human form, cradling Harry's limp body, not caring for the blood soaking through his clothes. He pressed on Harry's neck, frantically attempting to find a pulse.
No! Sweet Salazar, it couldn't be! Harry couldn't be dead, he was the only one who Tom would ever—
And then it came. So faintly that Tom thought he must have imagined it at first. But then there was another one, even fainter than the first.
It was a pulse! Harry was still alive!
In a flash, Tom had his wand out, sealing Harry's wounds shut. But he knew that would only buy a few minutes. Harry had lost a lot of blood, and no spell could cure that. Harry needed a blood replenishing potion, and fast.
What Tom could do with a spell was to put Harry into an almost coma-like sleep. That would preserve his body as it was for at least a half an hour.
Tom knew he didn't have any of the potion at Slytherin Manor, and it took an hour to brew. He didn't have that much time. Hogwarts was the only possible source of help.
He couldn't carry the young man to the castle himself. Hogwarts' alarms would go off, and Harry's medical treatment could easily be delayed in the ensuing panic. Just as he was wondering how he would find someone to come to Harry's aid, he heard a young woman's voice frantically screaming Harry's name. Shifting back into panther form, he ran toward the source of the noise.
Hermione found herself losing hope. She'd been searching for at least an hour, and had not even found a clue. Harry had left Hogwarts, or was under his invisibility cloak. He might even be already—no. She wouldn't let herself think that.
Something cold suddenly ran into her hand. She looked down, and let out an ear-shattering shriek.
The creature at her feet growled at her. She tried to back away slowly.
It ran around her, growled again, and bared its fangs, standing right in the middle of her intended path of retreat.
She knew she could never outrun a panther, but she had to try. She started moving forward.
Shockingly, the panther immediately ceased growling. Instead, it purred at her and rubbed its head against her hand.
She took another step forward, slowly and tentatively. This was met with more purring, and a headbutt to the back of her legs.
She moved forward more quickly now, following the panther who was obviously trying to guide her somewhere. She went as quickly as she could over the rough ground, but from time to time the panther still meowed at her plaintively, as though urging her to move faster.
Eventually, it stopped. At first, Hermione couldn't see anything that would indicate why the panther would pause there.
The first thing she saw was the crimson pool, glistening softly in the moonlight. And then she saw the source of the liquid. Harry, soaking in his own blood, with his chest just barely moving. And yet, strangely, though his arms seemed to be the source of the blood, she saw no wounds.
The mystery could wait. Harry needed medical attention, and he needed it now. She levitated his body and headed back to the castle.
Tom let out a sigh of relief. Harry would be all right. He resumed his normal form and apparated back to Slytherin Manor.
Once home, he found that he suddenly had to get out of his blood-soaked robes, and to wash away the blood from his skin. That was somewhat odd. While he enjoyed being clean as much as the next person, blood had never especially bothered him before.
But this was Harry's blood.
And he had almost lost Harry that night.
Why was that thought so disturbing to him?
He had almost lost his Horcrux, Tom supposed. But the thought of his soul piece entrenched within Harry's scar had not even entered his head until this very moment. That wasn't the source of his distress. He hadn't even considered it.
He'd thought about Harry before he thought about himself.
That wasn't like him. He was the Dark Lord Voldemort, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Darkest wizard since Mordred himself. He never thought of others because others did not concern him. He felt nothing for them.
And yet he'd thought of Harry.
A startling, earth-shattering revelation swept over him. He, Tom Marvolo Riddle, Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, was utterly, completely, and irrevocably in love with Harry Potter.
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When Harry regained consciousness, he didn't know whether or not to be disappointed. He'd thought that maybe, just maybe, he would get to see his parents again. And Sirius. And even Dumbledore.
But he might not want to hear what they have to say. After everything he'd done, it was probably for the best that he didn't have to face his parental figures just yet.
Who he did have to face, however, was Hermione.
She didn't offer a single word of reproach. She hugged him, and told him she loved him, and that she hoped he would talk to her when he was ready. But she didn't have to say it. It was all too clear in her eyes. Her soft brown doe-like eyes were constantly on the verge of tears, and he could hear the accusation in them just as easily as if it had come from her lips. "How could you do this to me?"
Ron and Ginny came to see him too, along with his other housemates. But there was only one person he really wanted to talk to at that moment. There was an answer that he had come to realize that he desperately needed.
It wasn't going to be easy. He was, understandably, being watched all the time. There was a ward cast over the door that notified Madame Pomfrey whenever anyone left the Hospital Wing. Hermione had his map and his Invisibility Cloak.
"What are you still doing in the Hospital Wing?" a soft female voice said. It was Luna Lovegood. "Salazar would really like to see for himself that you're all right."
"Would he really?" Harry spat, not even bothering to wonder how the girl would know this. "He wanted me dead all along, just as much as Voldemort ever did. They probably had a good laugh about it. Ha bloody ha!"
Luna sighed. "Harry, have you ever heard of the Belskold Tower?"
Harry almost growled. "Luna, I'm not interested in your riddles today."
Luna continued as if he hadn't spoken. "The East half of it is made of brick. The West half is made of marble. But the truly interesting thing about it is this: whatever side you are standing on is the only side you can see. If you stand on the East side, the whole building appears to be brick. If you stand on the West, it appears to be all marble."
Harry didn't reply. He was trying to pretend that he wasn't listening.
Luna sighed again, more heavily this time. "Given the circumstances, I suppose I can give you this one: If you only ever looked at the East, you would think the Tower was just brick. But that wouldn't be true. Until you go and look for it, you can never really know what the other side is."
Harry was overcome with a sudden realization. "I thought you didn't believe in spoon-feeding answers," he snarled. "After all, how will I learn?"
The spirit in the form of Luna Lovegood just stared serenely at him. "Today, I am not the one you need to learn from," she replied. "Run along now."
Harry started to get up, and then remembered his initial dilemma. "What about Madame Pom—oh." The Matron, who had been sitting at her desk near the entrance and glancing at him at least once every thirty seconds, had suddenly fallen asleep.
"There's also a ward, you know, over the doorway," Harry mumbled as he got out of bed.
Luna frowned at him. "Why would a phoenix use a door?"
"It wouldn't. It can travel where it needs to go by—ooooohhhh." Harry understood. Before leaving, he grabbed a piece of parchment and a quill and penned a short note: "I'm okay and I'll be back soon. I just had to talk to someone. –H." Then he built a mental picture of the Chamber and whispered "§enter.§"