The Problem with Returning

Summery: In the Chamber of Secrets, Tom convinced Harry come with him and leave Hogwarts and Dumbledore behind. Returning over a year later for the Triwizard Tournament, he contemplates his decision.

Disclaimer: If I really owned Harry Potter, do you think I would be writing fanfiction?

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The cabin was dim, the handful of candles on the desk not casting enough light to fully illuminate the space. The furnishings themselves were Spartan. A plain desk and chair were against one wall, and a simple chest was pushed into a corner. No form of carpet covered the rough plank floors.

The room's only personality came from the bed. The oversized piece was tucked into another corner, and was piled high with thick comforters and colorful blankets and a myriad of pillows in every size, shape and style imaginable. A small figure was huddles against the wall, enveloped in a thick, furry looking throw. The boy appeared to be around thirteen years in age, with shoulder length black hair mussed from sleep and groggy green eyes peering blearily out from under shaggy bangs.

Focusing on the figure hunched over the desk, the boy tried to ignore the soothing rocking of the ship and the gentle lull of water against the hull.

This was so like Tom. Even when taking a break from the duties and procedures of Durmstrang, he couldn't actually leave his work behind. It was as if his life depended on whatever this project was. Though for all he knew, it could. Tom had, after all, been obsessively researching ever since they had taken amnesty at Durmstrang a little over a year ago, after he had allowed Tom to bring him along in his flight from the Chamber, from Hogwarts, from Britain.

At times he tried to convince himself that he couldn't have done anything differently, that there was no other choice in the matter. But in his heart he knew the truth, and with increasing consistency he accepted it. He could have saved Ginny. He could have found a way to destroy the diary. He could have ignored Tom's persuasion. He could have rejected Tom's offer and stayed at Hogwarts.

But he hadn't.

Instead, for once in his life, he had been selfish. When Tom had begun explaining how similar their lives were, he had been captivated. He had been so happy to, for the first time in his life, have someone that truly understood what he had been through, how he felt. No one else, so matter how much they pitied his situation, had ever been able to relate to how the Dursleys treated him.

He had been so distracted that he had allowed himself to forget the pressing task of waking Ginny. When he had finally recalled the urgency, it was too late. Not only was Ginny already dead, but Tom had captured his spirit.

Before that night, he had never considered Dumbledore anything more than a gentle old man who happened to have known his parents and happened to be extremely powerful. Yet, as much as he hadn't wanted to believe Dumbledore had had an alternate agenda, every time he'd remembered something good the headmaster had done or something wise he had said, Tom had moved onward with evidence calling those exact actions into question. Memories would come rushing forward of inconsistencies in the headmaster's stories.

That had been an eerie experience. It was almost as if Tom was reading his mind. And the whole time he'd maintained steady eye contact, staring him down.

Looking back, it was fairly obviously that Tom had been manipulating the situation. But even then, Harry couldn't bring himself to resent the older boy. After all, Tom hadn't tried to control him. He had just presented him with a simple proposition: leave. Leave and take control of his life. Leave and not put himself in the center of a conflict he hadn't chosen. Leave and not be forced to subject himself to relatives and peers who hated him through no fault of his own.

And that's what he'd done. He had left everything behind for the prospect of being "just Harry."

"Harry, are you awake?"

With a jolt, Harry refocused his attention on the present and the mildly concerned young man looking over at him.

"Why do I have to sleep here?" Harry croaked, his voice coming out as barely a whisper. "I have my own room."

"Yes, and you have a roommate whom you've already gotten sick. As you are apparently contagious, it's best if you stay in here, away from your classmates. I've already gotten dragon pox, so I should be safe. Besides, my room is the warmest one on the ship. I can't have you getting more sick on me, now can I?"

"But Victor..."

"Has already been placed in semi-quarantine. Now be quiet and go to sleep, Harry."

The boy obediently fell silent, but instead fought to stay awake, continuing to watch Tom's frantic scribbling.

He wasn't quite sure when the devil incarnate known as Riddle had morphed into the older brother figure that Tom now was. It had been sometime after their arrival at Durmstrang, he knew that much. But beyond that, it was truly a mystery. He supposed, though, that it shouldn't have been such a shock. After all, with all the time Tom spent training him, bringing his skills up to par, the pair had been bound to grow on each other. Add to that that, after each of Tom's mysterious outings, he had become warmer, more expressive with his emotions, and they had quickly grown close.

As this was happening, Harry had also found himself - contrary to both his expectations and hopes at the time - making close friends with a group of boys a couple years senior to him. A group of boys with enough political power and social influence of their own that they could have cared less if he was really Merlin reincarnated. A group of boys who had bullied Karkaroff into allowing an underclassmen to accompany them on their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. An opportunity taking place somewhere he had hoped to avoid for a little bit longer yet.

"Do you think they'll recognize me?"

"I thought I told you to go to sleep."

"Do you think they'll recognize me?"

Tom stayed silent and, with his face tilted the way it was, the shadows were too thick to make out his expression. Finally, when Harry was considering posing the question yet again, the older boy spoke.

"Do you want the optimistic response or the realistic one?"

"Realistic," Harry rasped.

Tom nodded slightly, set down his pen, and turned to face Harry. Now that he could see the older boy's face, he still didn't know what to make of his expression.

"They will probably notice similarities. All we can hope for is that they look for even more similarities then are actually there and pass you over. With any luck the contacts will help throw them off. That, and if they do think you're still alive, they most likely expect you to look 14, not 12."

As much as Harry hated to admit it, Tom was right. Having nutrition potions shoved down his throat had helped him fill out some, but Harry had hardly grown since his second year. The harsh effects of years of both poor diet and physical labor had permanently stunted his growth.

"What about you? Do you think anyone will recognize you?"

Tom was silent for a moment. "I doubt it. The only person who would recognize 'Tom Riddle' as my future self is Dumbledore. Given how he likes to keep that sort of thing secret, I doubt he will tell anyone else. Anyone who recognizes me from Hogwarts, however, will most likely pass me off as being my own nephew. That and, given the familiarity of our relationship and our uncanny resemblance, they will probably assume that we are brothers."

When Harry didn't immediately ask another question, Tom turned back to his work. Just as his quill touched the paper, the younger boy spoke up.

"Do you think they'll hate me?"

"Would it matter if they hated you?"

"Tom!"

"You asked my opinion. And were they really such great friends if they would abandon two years of friendship over you deciding to choose your own path?"

Harry's face flushed. "I... I still don't want them to turn their backs on me. I... I don't want to be alone again."

Tom's expression, which had previously been compassionate, instantly hardened. "I think you discount your new friends too quickly."

Realizing what he had just said, Harry instantly regretted it. "No! That's not what I meant! I know you and the others would never..."

"Get some rest, Potter. You're sick and you need to recover."

With a resigned sigh, Harry settled back into his cocoon. He recognized that voice. It was Tom's "I'm pissed and you better not contradict me" voice. You never argued with that voice. You just stayed quiet and waited for Tom to finish stewing over whatever had him angry.

Sending one last glance over to the desk, Harry drifted off to sleep with a soft murmur of "Goodnight, Tom."

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Wow. It's been so long since I've even attempted to write fanfiction that I still can't believe this is done. Just... wow. Anyway, what do you think? This blurb is inspired by an idea that's been floating around my head for a while now about what would have happened if Harry hadn't saved Ginny 2nd year and, instead, Tom had been able to manipulate Harry into leaving with him instead. I have a ton of ideas of things I could do with this, so it might morph into a longer story at some point, but for now it's going to stay a oneshot.

Anyway, feedback is greatly appreciated, so please review!

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