Another one-shot that's been sitting on my drive for months and not getting any better. Might as well post it, since I haven't been writing much lately and am unlikely to spend a lot more time on this idea.
"Hello? Anybody there?"
Harry's voice echoed in the empty void hollowly. He seemed to be standing under a spotlight in a completely empty space. Impenetrable darkness started a few metres from him, and gave the impression that it went on in all directions forever.
The floor too was completely black, with an absence of colour that seemed to absorb the spotlight. His footsteps rang out as if he was walking on stone, but it didn't feel like it. It didn't feel like anything actually.
"This is a really dull place," said Harry. "I hope this doesn't take too long. Hello? Voldy? Tom? Are you in here? Please answer me before I go even more nuts."
"Potter," hissed Voldemort, stepping out of the darkness. "Impossible."
The bald, nose-less man practically leered at Harry, his red, cat-like eyes glowing brighter than the spot light that suddenly targeted him.
"What have you done?" it said.
"I finally got a hold of decent Occlumency books," explained Harry. "After your patsy, Snape, buggered me around so badly with his so-called lessons, I figured I had better do something for myself. I got some books and read them a couple of times."
"Ah yes. Severus was rather good at opening up your mind for me," said Voldemort, grinning evilly. "It was one of my better plans."
"No it wasn't," said Harry. "That's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about actually. Anyway, I got these books, had a bit of a read, and discovered there is a lot more to this mental crap than just 'clear your mind'. So I got a few more books, ones that cost me a pretty penny I'll tell you, and had a really good read. Took me most of my free time last year, which is possibly why that idiot Draco managed to outsmart me and get your goons into the castle."
"Another of my brilliant manoeuvres," gloated Voldemort.
"No, it was a colossal stuff up of monumental proportions, but we'll get to that later. Getting back to my story, I found a nifty bit about how two people can use a lot of the same discipline to 'talk' to each other, and here we are."
"Impossible," said Voldemort, eyeing Harry wearily. "Such a feat would require us to share a bond. We have no such bond; I would know of it. All we have is a strange link caused by the magic your pathetic mother wrought when she tried to save your miserable life."
"True," said Harry. "It does need a bond, and I think one of us would remember if we got hitched, unless we were both really, really drunk I suppose, but it's not very likely, since I don't even drink."
His chuckle seemed to unsettle the Dark Lord.
"Tell me how you managed this impossible feat," commanded Voldemort, his wand suddenly appearing in his long fingered hand.
"Now, now," said Harry, showing no concern at the sudden appearance of a wand most of the world feared. "You can't do any magic in here that I don't agree with, you know that. Just like I can't do anything that you won't allow."
"Tell me!" insisted the Dark Lord, growing enraged.
Harry sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose under his glasses. It was going to be harder than he thought.
"You don't have bond with me," he said, looking directly into the glowing red eyes. "You have one with him."
Harry hitched his thumb over his shoulder where another spot light suddenly came on.
Tom Riddle stood in the light.
He looked perfectly normal, almost boringly so. His mane of dark hair had a few silver streaks and his handsome features wore the passage of his years, but he was a stark contrast to side-show freak of Voldemort.
"Hello," said Tom meekly.
"Impossible!" said Voldemort, his voice hissing sibilantly. "What is this?"
"Calm down and I'll explain it all," said Harry sternly. "Go off like a two-bob-watch and I'll walk away leaving you in the dark, literally."
Voldemort's anger peaked; the rage showing on his twisted face, but then suddenly disappeared completely, replaced with an unnatural calm.
"By all means," he said, trying very hard to sound reasonable. "Continue."
Harry nodded, and Tom came to stand beside him.
"Okay, long story short. You really messed up the night you killed my parents. The Killing curse bounced back and hit you, and splintered off a bit of your soul. That bit flopped around a while before it latched onto me, where it's been hanging around dormant ever since."
Voldemort actually took a step backwards in shock. His eyes shot to peer at the human looking version of himself.
"Yep," said Tom happily. "That's me."
"Impossible," repeated Voldemort.
"You keep using that word," said Harry, putting on a funny accent. "I do not think it means what you think it means."
Voldemort stared at Harry in confusion.
"Forget it. It only really works for inconceivable, anyway."
Voldemort's expression did not change.
"Moving on," continued Harry, "Tom here is stuck in my head. He's been sort of awake for a while, ever since Snape rooted around in my skull actually, but only really got interactive after I started getting the Occlumency stuff down. We've been having a bit of a chat-"
"A very long and detailed discourse actually," said Tom.
"And came up with this idea to get to talk to you without being in danger of getting AK'ed."
"Imp-", began Voldemort.
"Impossible, yeah I know," interrupted Harry. "Look, this is going to take forever if you don't open your mind a bit and at least pretend to accept what I am saying. We could jump through hoops all night trying to prove it to you, but you'd still be uncertain, since we are technically in your mind and therefore possibly able to access your memories. So why don't you stop with the 'impossible' already and hear us out, okay?"
Several emotions flashed across Voldemort's face, anger being the most obvious.
"What possible harm could it do to listen to the boy?" encouraged Tom.
Voldemort stared at the more human image of himself again, and then his faced slipped back into its neutral expression.
"Continue," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand, again almost commanding Harry.
Harry rolled his eyes upwards and let out a sigh at the Dark Lord's attitude.
"All right, here's the deal. Tom here knows just about everything you know up to the night of your, er, accident, but he's realised he is missing a few things from before then."
"Missing?" asked Voldemort.
"Feelings," explained Tom. "Emotions, empathy, even a few memories."
Voldemort opened his mouth to speak, but Harry cut him off.
"Don't say it," he said. "We know, impossible, but just hang onto that thought, he's got a theory. Tom?"
"Each and every time I, I mean you, well no, I mean we, really. This is a bit confusing. Anyway each time we made a new Horcrux, we lost a bit more of ourselves than we thought."
Voldemort hissed quietly in anger when Tom said Horcrux.
"Don't worry," said Harry. "I all ready know all about the Horcruxes, all of them. Dumbledore figured it all out a few years ago after I destroyed the diary you gave Malfoy. He told me the rest later on."
This time, Voldemort almost growled.
"By the time that fateful Halloween came around," continued Tom, "the remaining portion of our soul was so badly damaged, that it literally came apart at the seams when the rebounded curse hit us. One portion, the more agile portion, fled. The other part took refuge in the closest thing it reasonably could-"
"Me," said Harry, hitching his thumb towards his chest and grinning stupidly.
Voldemort stood quietly for a moment, and Harry had no doubt his once brilliant mind was running over everything they said, searching for errors in their thinking, and possibly reasons for their current actions.
"You do not look or act like me, even at that point in time," pointed out Voldemort. "Neither does Potter."
"True," answered Tom. "I can thank Mister Potter for that. From the moment I took up residence inside of him, I have been healing, growing back the parts we lost-"
"Weak parts," snapped Voldemort. "Things I am better without. Compassion, understanding, love; all weaknesses I am glad to have discarded."
"Ah," said Harry. "You already figured that bit out yourself, didn't you? You knew you've lost bits."
"Yes," said Voldemort, hissing the s. "I had ample time to reflect on what went wrong, and came to a similar conclusion, but I see it for what it really is – a benefit."
"No," said Tom. "It's madness, true insanity, and the worst part is that it is almost impossible to recognise it in yourself. Only because I have recovered while sheltered by Harry's own soul lets me see it."
"That's why I've got you here," said Harry. "I want to offer you a trade. My life, and that of my friends and their families, for your sanity."
Voldemort laughed, a cold high laugh that mocked them with its falsity.
"Do you really think I am going to fall for your fairy tale?" he asked. "Did you believe you could mislead me and trick me into removing a Horcrux from your head?
"No Potter, I can see through your subterfuge, and I know what you are really after. While you live, I cannot die."
Harry let out a long sigh and turned to Tom
"You were right," he said. "He is an idiot."
Voldemort snarled and leapt forward to seize Harry, only to find his hands passing through the boy as if he was a ghost.
"I told you," said Harry. "You can't do anything in here I don't agree with."
Voldemort growled again, but stepped back.
"Do you really think I wouldn't give my life to stop you?" asked Harry. "Are you really that nuts, that you can't see how often I've been willing to do it already? You met me in front of the Mirror of Erised, do you know what I saw in there, the first time I looked? I saw my family, my dead family. What does that tell you about how much I've got to live for out here?"
"Nobody really wants to die," said Voldemort. "Not even you."
"Of course not," agreed Harry. "But can you look at me and believe I wouldn't give it all up to stop you?"
Voldemort paused for moment, apparently in thought.
"I am not insane," he said, as much to himself as to Harry and Tom.
"Yes, you are," said Harry. "I can prove it, if you'll listen for a few minutes."
Voldemort stared at Harry for a solid minute, as if trying to cast Legilimens on him.
"Come on," said Harry, feeling nervous under the penetrating glare. "All I am going to do is go over some of your History with you. What have you go to lose?"
"Very well," said the Dark Lord, sounding bored already. "Explain your reasoning."
"Let's start right at the beginning, back before I was even born. Back before you even started at Hogwarts. In the orphanage, you used to get picked on, right? The others thought you were weird, and kicked you around a bit. So you struck back, mastering your magic enough to be able to get revenge on them and keep the lot scared of you, correct?"
Voldemort sucked his breath in angrily and shot a hate-filled glare at Tom.
"Don't blame me," said Tom. "Dumbledore told him all about that."
"That's not actually that different from what lots of kids in that situation would do," said Harry. "Although killing the rabbit was a bit on the extreme side.
"Then you started at Hogwarts, and discovered you could be a different person altogether. You made friends, and became quite charming, earning trust and respect left and right. Problem was, it was all fake. You didn't really give a toss about anybody except yourself, and pretended to be all nice and sweet, most of the time. Even that's not totally uncommon, although most people grow out of it.
"Now we hit the first strange part. You found the Chamber of Secrets, an incredible accomplishment, but instead of showing the world and gaining lots of fame, credit, and other good stuff, you keep mum about it!
"It doesn't fit, not after all the work you put in showing everybody you were the brightest and the best. It would have been the crowning achievement of your Hogwarts years, something that hundreds of older, much more accomplished wizards failed at, but you shut up about it. I thought it was because of the Parslemouth thing, but Tom corrected me on that.
"You know, nobody ever told me that, before you buggered it up, being a Parslemouth wasn't considered any worse a trait than something like having skill in divination? Hell, being a Parslemouth in Slytherin was another feather in your cap, that's how everybody knows you are one, because your old house used to be proud of it!
"So if it wasn't the Parslemouth thing, and you stood to gain so much from revealing your find, why did you keep the Chamber secret?"
"It was mine!" said Voldemort. "I discovered it. Only I was worthy to walk the path noble Slytherin laid down. It was my destiny, and mine alone."
"No," said Tom. "It was the basilisk – our first pet. We made friends with her, that first time when we spoke to the statue and it opened its mouth. We thought it was going to reply, but the basilisk came out and spoke to us."
"It was just an animal," said Voldemort. "A beast I forced to my bidding."
"You knew it would be killed if you told anybody about the Chamber," said Harry. "You didn't want her to be hurt, so you tried to get her out of the castle, and that's when the accidents happened. Each time you tried to help her escape, she ran into somebody. The old school must have been a bit more lax in keeping students in bed back then, eh?"
"I sent her to hunt down Mudbloods, to cleanse the school of those unworthy-"
"Bollocks," interrupted Harry. "The Diary showed me the memory of you openly admitting to being a half-blood to headmaster Dippet, so you obviously didn't believe all that pure-blood rot back then."
"Besides," added Tom. "How could she possibly target half-bloods? She could not tell, just from smelling them. Anybody she came across was a target, regardless of their ancestry."
Voldemort again made an angry noise deep in his throat, but held his tongue and let Harry continue.
Tom watched them both closely.
"After Myrtle died, the one time you failed to protect the student the basilisk ran into, you closed the Chamber. You never went back, not once. Not even after you framed Hagrid. Why? Because you wanted to protect your friend, even if it meant losing her forever, and never being able to claim your rightful place as the heir of Slytherin."
"I didn't need the Chamber to prove my heritage," said Voldemort.
"No," agreed Harry. "You searched through the library and every book you could find, and managed to track down your family, using only your grandfather's name and the belief you were descended from Slytherin. That was another incredible feat. You were really something back then, Tom."
Tom dipped his head in acknowledgement, gaining a startled glance form Voldemort.
"So you found the Gaunts," said Harry. "You know, Dumbledore was wrong about this. He thought you stunned Morphin, took his wand, killed your father and Muggle grandparents, and then expertly modified your uncle's memory to make him think he did it. Over estimated you a bit, didn't he?"
"The fool," said Voldemort. "If I had used magic, the Trace would have reported it immediately, and even I could not master the mind arts at that age."
"So we hit him over the head instead, knocking him out," said Tom, sounding ashamed. "We took the ring from his hand, as proof of our lineage."
"Later, Morphin woke up, saw the ring was gone, vaguely remembered somebody who looked like Tom Riddle coming in to the house, and ran off to kill him and anybody else he came across," said Harry.
"Filthy Muggle deserved it," said Voldemort.
"He was tricked into fathering you," said Harry. "You didn't want to face him, in case he rejected you, and I bet your were pretty angry about all of it too, but you didn't want to murder him."
"I tire of this fantasy," said Voldemort. "Will you be reaching a point anytime soon?"
"We are just getting to the interesting part," said Harry. "Hang around a bit longer.
"So after getting the ring, things started getting a bit muddled up in your head. The only thing you considered a friend is locked away under the school, your family is a bust, and you really don't have any direction in your life. Meanwhile, the war against Grindelwald is heating up. People are dying left and right, and nobody looks like they can stop it. Suddenly you have a great idea. 'What if I can stop him?' you ask yourself.
"You imagine the fame and glory that would bring you. It would be everything a sixteen year old, attention-seeking orphan could hope for. Every door would be opened for you. You could probably even gain enough influence to one day return to Hogwarts and free the basilisk.
"The only problem is you are nowhere near Grindelwald's skill level, and will certainly get slaughtered if you tried. The trick, you figure, is not to die.
"So you once again crank up your amazing research skills and discover something – Horcruxes. Even more amazingly, you piece together the spells you need, working from nothing more than vague references and suspicions.
"Finally, you decide you need to do it, you have to make one. It's the only way you'll have any chance at defeating Grindelwald. It was a very brave decision, especially since it possibly involved murdering somebody.
"I think maybe Dumbledore believed you used the murder of your father to make your first Horcrux, but it wasn't, was it? You didn't even know he was dead until Morphin had his trial and was locked away. No, you had already killed someone before that, or being directly responsible for her death, which is the same thing."
"Myrtle," whispered Tom, "poor Myrtle. Her death was my fault, but I could not tell her."
Voldemort glared defiantly at Tom.
"Myrtle," agreed Harry. "Despite not really wanting to kill her, your soul was splintered by her death. So you took the ring, performed the ritual, and lost your sanity."
"Enough!" yelled Voldemort.
"You had your Horcrux," yelled Harry, "but suddenly decided it wasn't good enough. You needed more. What kind of a decision was that? What were you thinking; that you needed more immortal?"
"I am leaving," yelled Voldemort, but made no move.
"Face it, something happened when you made the first Horcrux," said Harry. "You didn't stick to the plan, but hung back, delayed, looking into making unneeded extras. Something changed, didn't it?"
"Yes!" screamed Voldemort, almost frothing. "Everything changed. I performed magic nobody achieved for centuries. I wasn't even out of school, and already I was more accomplished than wizards a century my senior. The war raged for years; I could wait a bit longer, to make myself more powerful. I would be the greatest wizard the world had ever seen-"
"And then Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald," said Harry.
Voldemort paused his tirade; his mouth still open, mid-yell.
"He got all the glory," said Tom sadly. "I risked everything, pushing myself beyond limits set by wiser men, but Dumbledore became famous. They had parades and gave him medals, and he looked just the same as he had always done. After everything I went through, after all of the work I put into creating a Horcrux to give me the advantage, Dumbledore just walked out and defeated him, as if he could have done it at any time."
"The old bastard really made you look bad, didn't he?" asked Harry. "It must have been heart breaking, seeing it all slip away like that."
"But he is now dead," said Voldemort, unnaturally calm. "While the nostalgia of your imagination is amusing, I still don't see your point."
"Think about this really hard," said Harry. "You have, as you just said, accomplished more than almost any wizard alive, but what do you when you finally complete school, with good grades I bet?"
"The highest exam scores on record," said Tom proudly.
"Do you head out and use your contacts to move up society? Do you grab onto any of the undoubtedly fantastic employment opportunities that were getting thrown at your feet? Did you turn those amazing research skills to anything productive?
"No, you went to work in a pawn shop. Does that sound like something sensible, something sane?"
"It was the third sign of our insanity," said Tom. "The second was retrieving Ravenclaw's diadem and turning it into a Horcrux, instead of putting it on."
Voldemort again yelled in anger.
"I've already told you I know all about the Horcruxes, that Dumbledore figured them all out. What's your problem?" asked Harry angrily.
The question stopped Voldemort dead in his tracks.
"You know?" he asked.
"Know? Hell, I even stood next to Dumbledore on that lovely little island in the cave and watched him get Slytherin's locket out of the bowl. Didn't you wonder about his hand? The ring did that, just before he put a big crack through the middle of it."
For the first time, a look of uncertainty crossed the face of the Dark Lord, and he turned to look at Tom.
"It's true," said Tom. "The Diadem in the Room of Requirement where people hide things, the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff in Belatrix's Gringotts vault, he knows about them all."
A look of triumph slipped into Voldemort's expression.
"All?" he asked, looking at Harry.
"Even the Snake, Nagini," said Harry.
The triumph disappeared, to be replaced by anger.
"I will make more," he said. "Using the deaths of your little school friends to accomplish it."
Harry shook his head in disbelief.
"You still don't get it, do you?" he asked. "Can't you see that each one has made you stupider, or at least more nuts? Aren't you seeing that yet? Look, let's go over a couple of other things and see if we can spot a pattern.
"First, you make Ravenclaws thing into one, and suddenly think your best career option is to buy and sell junk in a crappy little pawn shop. You might think it was a clever way to track down more of the founder's things, but it was sheer luck that you stumbled over poor old Hepzibah Smith and her little stash.
"There are dozens of better ways. You could work in the Ministry and use your research talents there to find them, or maybe make some money doing something worthwhile and then sent others out to look for them.
"Hell, Burke himself would have told you where to find Slytherin's locket, if you had offered to pay for information.
"Imagine how many Founders' artefacts you would have collected if you hadn't been sneaking around trying to do it on the sly? Not that cutting off more of your soul made any sense to begin with, but you really did make it so much harder for yourself.
"You are already showing some pretty big lapses in judgment, but you stumble on two items you figure are 'worthy', so you go and make two more Horcruxes, bringing your total to five.
"What's the first big decision you make? You do a runner. Two days after you visit her, one of your clients dies from drinking poison, the Cup, that her family knows she had, is missing, along with a very special locket Burke is eager to get back, and you cut and run. You might as well have held a big sign above your head saying 'I did it'!"
"I had what I needed," said Voldemort. "There was no point in staying longer."
"You didn't have anything of Gryffindor's, did you?" asked Harry. "Either the job wasn't the best place to find Founder artefacts, which makes it a stupid position to take in the first place, or you hadn't finished using it yet, which makes leaving a stupid decision. You aren't stupid, so what other reason is there?"
"I had reasons," said Voldemort.
"But none that you can recall now," said Tom, looking at Voldemort pointedly.
"It's more proof that you aren't flying with all the bristles in place," said Harry.
"Ridiculous," said Voldemort.
"Is it? Really? Still not convinced? Let's go on from there then. Instead of going into politics, the way everybody expected you to, you get a few friends together and start terrorising people. You risk life and limb, not to mention jail, to do the same thing you could have done legally."
"The sheep of this world should fear me!"
"But they couldn't, because you hid in the shadows! You took your silly made-up name and became the bogey-man, when you could have had all of the respect and fear you wanted by taking control of the government from within. What was the point of all the killing and the murdering when all it did was make a lot more people hate you?
"I mean, come on. Lucius Malfoy's got more power and control than you, well, before his latest stint got him locked up, and he's an idiot. You could have been the youngest Minister of magic and had the sheep working for you, but instead you decide to exterminate whole families and turn just about the whole world against you."
"Mudbloods and blood traitors deserved to die," yelled Voldemort.
"Are you forgetting you're one of them too? Every time you say stupid things like that, you are condemning yourself, aren't you?
"But let's skip over that for the moment, and follow your plan a bit more. Let's say you managed to wipe out everyone that's not a pure blood, and, hell, let's say you've wiped out all the Muggles, werewolves, vampires, and any other creature that's not tenth generation, inbred human, what was your end game? Where was that going to lead you?"
"I would be ruler of the world," said Voldemort, his eyes glowing even brighter.
"Ruler of a couple of hundred thousand people? Maybe a million? That's not a whole lot to rule, is it? Not when you could possibly have had billions."
"Billions?" asked both the Dark Lord and his younger counterpart at the same time.
"Great Merlin! Didn't you even ask just how many Muggles there were before you started spouting off about wiping them out? Billions and billions.
"Grindelwald made a fair bit of headway into conquering them, but he was too impatient. What was your excuse? You had an eternity to re-integrate Muggles and Magic, and then eventually take over the whole lot, but you rushed in and just started culling innocent people."
"I don't want to rule filthy Muggles," spat Voldemort.
"What a crock," said Harry. "You hate them, but you hate everybody, don't you. Does that mean you want to murder everybody? To be left ruling over nothing? Sounds a bit daft, doesn't it? A little bit crazy maybe?"
"Only the worthy-"
"But nobody is worthy, are they?" asked Tom. "Nobody can measure up to our standards. Only Dumbledore-"
"That fool was nothing! He wasn't even worth going to the trouble of killing by my own hand!"
Harry shook his head in disbelief, but forced himself to continue.
"Let's jump ahead a bit," he said, "since there's no doubt the years of murder and mayhem had their fair share of crazy. Let's get to the bit where you find out about the prophecy. Now, personally, I think the whole 'art' is load of bunk, but you hear half of this one, and decide it's the real thing. So you put on your thinking cap, and somehow come to the conclusion that you can derail it.
"Kind of contradict yourself there, don't you? You believe the prophecy is true, but think you can stop it? Not particularly sensible an idea, is it? Even if you could stop it, why in the world would you suddenly decide 'Hey, I'll personally kill this little blighter, just to make sure' ? You believe I might be a danger to you, but you don't know how, and instead of sending a bunch of goons around to put an end to it, you do it yourself?
"I might be the strange one here, but it seems to me that the clever thing to do, the sane thing, would be to keep as far away from the possible source of your defeat as you can. Tom here is a lot smarter than I am, so for the life of me I can't see why you would think of doing it yourself, when you believed I could kill you."
"I didn't believe a baby could kill me," said Tom.
"But you did believe in the prophecy, which said I might kill you? There's a word for something like that, 'paradox' I think it is. I'm pretty sure there's a word for people who can believe in both sides of a paradox too, but I'm not up with all the crazy-lingo."
"You cannot understand the mind of Lord Voldemort," said Voldemort. "You are just a foolish child."
"But Tom here isn't, and he can't figure out how he could do something so stupid either," said Harry.
"By your own words, it has been affected by existing inside of your mind," said Voldemort.
"Good point, but let's not get bogged down arguing over every point. We've got a lot more to cover.
"Things 'go south', and you end up as that black, ghosty-thing. I understand the shock was huge, and it must have taken you a damn long time to recover, but why, after travelling halfway across the world to hide until you got your mojo back, why would you stay away?
"You could have returned, found one of your followers, and being back at it again in no time flat. Why did you wait ten years, and then just up and grab some poor fool who happens to wander by? Were you scared of being seen by your true-believers without your pants on or something? "
"I could not trust any of them with the knowledge of my weakened state," said Voldemort. "Not after they abandoned me so quickly."
"Trust? You didn't trust Quirrell. You forced him to your will. I can't believe it wouldn't have been easier using one of your faithful idiots? You ended up doing it with Wormtail – one of the most untrustworthy people in existence!
"No, that fact is you were too bonkers to figure out what to do. For ten years you flopped about being king of the mice, rats, and other crawly things, and then happened to run across Quirrell.
"So there you are, in control of a fully qualified wizard, and the best plan you can come up with is to start making all sorts of less than discrete enquiries about a certain stone. Besides putting a few key people on their guard, what did you hope to do with old Flamel's rock? You couldn't use it; you needed a mouth for that. Gold is fairly useless to a disembodied spirit too.
"Nope, the only thing you could possibly do with the stone is keep Quirrell alive, because everything you hitched a ride in tended to get burned out after a bit and die. That's what you were using the unicorn blood for too, to keep him alive. You didn't need it; you'd been going for a decade without it by then, but he needed it to keep from going up like a firecracker on the fifth of November after you shared his skull for too long. Right?
"You are essentially correct," allowed Voldemort.
"Now I'm not sure why you didn't just get him to contact some of your old people and spin them a tale or two, or why you didn't just get him to make the Homunculus thing that Wormtail put you in later on, but there might have been reasons, it's not important.
"What is important is that you somehow decided it was worth risking yourself going to Hogwarts, in order to keep him alive. Did you get that? You put the secret of your paltry existence, the very thing that supposedly stopped you from seeking out your allies, right in front of the one person who could possibly recognise and stop you.
"Does that in anyway sound sane?"
"It was a calculated risk," said Voldemort.
"I'd say your math sucks pretty badly then," laughed Harry, earning a scolding glare from Voldemort.
"So it all falls apart, thanks to little old me, and Dumbledore knows you're out and about, what you look like, and what you can do. There is no reason for you to go back into hiding, and yet that's exactly what you did! You dashed off, back to your nasty little forest where the rodents fear you, and sit around waiting, again.
"A few dozen former Death Eaters are less than half the distance away, and the chances are a couple where a lot closer than that, and I'm not counting Snape here either. People who could help you, one way or the other, but you rush off back to the empty woods.
"Were you homesick or something?"
"I was disorientated, and badly injured after you forced me to abandon Quirrell," said Voldemort.
"For two years?"
Voldemort didn't answer.
"Anyway, I'll skip the whole Chamber of Secrets thing, since it's pointless trying to explain how nuts the little bit of your soul in the Diary was. Mind you, I would like to know what it thought it was going to do once it used Ginny's soul to reanimate itself, since I can't see it, or you, wanting to share power."
"Reanimate itself?" asked Voldemort and Tom, both at the same time.
"Didn't you know?" Harry asked Tom. "I thought you knew everything that happened to me."
"It is not a part of your life I am aware of, apart from the general outline," said Tom with a shrug. "It's hard to explain half of what has happened between us-"
"Enough of this prattle," snapped Voldemort. "Explain what you meant."
"The Horcrux in the Diary took control of Ginny, but didn't just use her to open the Chamber. It sucked the soul out of her, and was right at the end of making itself a new body when I stuck a basilisk fang through the book. Then it exploded."
"It was corporeal?" asked Voldemort.
"Huh? What, like my Patronus, fully formed?"
"Yes, fully formed, and able to touch things," explained Tom.
"It picked up my wand and was seconds away from finishing her off and becoming real," said Harry. "What was it meant to do, if not that?"
"It was never supposed to do anything except keep me alive," said Tom. "I designed it to be able to protect itself, if it fell into the wrong hands, but it was never meant to attempt to gain a body of its own."
"Remarkable," said Voldemort proudly.
"Nuts," said Harry. "Stark raving mad. About as subtle as a brick, and as thick as one too. It took a whole year to gain total control of a scared, lonely, eleven year old girl, and then tried to kill her in a way that spelt it out for everyone with eyes to see.
"Still, it was just a Horcrux, so forget it for the moment. I want to jump ahead to when Wormtail finally comes crawling back and got you a nice new baby-thing to wear. You return to England with the Rat, and finally decided to get some extra help. Using the knowledge tortured out of poor Bertha Jorkins, you rescue Barty Crouch Junior and capture his dad.
"Can you tell me, with Barty handy then and there, and his Senior Ministry Official dad under the Imperius, how was the best plan you could come up with was that convoluted, twisted, idiotic thing with the Goblet of Fire and the Triwizard tournament?
"It had so many holes in it, and could have gone wrong in so many places, did a few times in fact. How could that be the best the four of you could brainstorm?
"But it worked," said Voldemort.
"Hey, every dog has its day, and good dogs get two," said Harry flippantly. "You got lucky, but it still didn't come off exactly the way you wanted it to. Surely one of you would have thought of something much simpler that stood a better chance. Just the idea of having somebody imprison and impersonate Mad-eye for a whole year, under Dumbledore's nose no less, is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard of."
"What would you have done?" said Voldemort, sounding almost amused.
"Let's see, maybe I would simply have had Wormtail drop a Portkey on me at the Burrow? He knew the place inside and out. Wouldn't have taken too much to get me away, and nobody would have had a clue. And that's just off the top of my head!
"Perhaps I should have you as my adviser?" said Voldemort.
"You know what I think? I think it was your idea to do the whole Tournament thing. You made another Horcrux, out of a snake that only lives a dozen or two year no less, and then wouldn't listen to anybody else. I heard Wormtail try to talk you out of it, but you shut him down. I can understand you wanting to use my blood, to get around the blood ward thing, but there's dozens of ways you could have done it quicker, quieter, and without the huge risks. It was, quite simply, a mad plan that got lucky."
"It may seem like luck to you," said Voldemort. "But it was not."
"Here we go again. Need I remind you that you still believed in a prophecy saying I'd be your equal and would have the power to stop you? You wasted the whole year in one ridiculous attempt after the other trying to get a hold of that same prophecy when all you had to do was Polyjuice yourself and walk in, but at that time, after creating another Horcrux and just after getting a body back, you decided to cross wands with me. Either you were stupid, or you were crazy, and we both know you aren't stupid."
"You have to be seeing the connection by now," said Tom. "Making the first Horcrux badly impaired our judgement. As we made more, it became worse – you can clearly see it in the pattern of our actions and decisions."
"The latest of which was another really good one," said Harry sarcastically. "I'm not sure what you hoped to gain by murdering the one guy who preached not fighting fire with fire against you, but now you have to live with the fact all of your minions know a sixteen year old boy nearly succeeded where you failed time and time again, and that Snape did manage to do it.
"How does it feel having a man nearby that everybody knows has achieved something you couldn't?"
Voldemort snarled at Harry, showing his pointed teeth as he answered.
"Severus grovels at my feet. Anything he achieves is my victory."
"Can you hear the crazy in your voice?" asked Harry. "It's right there in front of you."
"Are you finished?" asked Voldemort. "I am singularly unimpressed."
"Yet you have not left yet," pointed out Tom.
"So we are back to my offer," said Harry. "If you make an unbreakable vow to leave me and mine alone, I'll let you take Tom back into yourself. Tom believes your soul will reattach, and you'll have back everything you've lost making your Horcruxes."
"Why would I do this?"
"Because you have nothing to lose," said Harry, "and a lot to gain."
"I'd lose you as a Horcrux," said Voldemort.
"You intend on doing that when you kill me anyway," said Harry, with a shrug. "It'd be stupid to keep me around with that prophecy hanging over your head all the time."
Voldemort stood silently, apparently thinking it over.
"You can always make more Horcruxes," said Harry. 'You've already messed up the 'seven' thing you had going, so one more won't matter, and you'll have more soul to do it with."
"I will not allow your friends to oppose me," said Voldemort. "If they raise a wand against me, they will die."
"Fair enough," said Harry after a moment. "By the same token, they have to have the right to defend themselves and their property without freeing you of your vow."
"No," said Voldemort.
"I said 'no'," repeated Voldemort. "I will not allow your friends to become the core of a resistance. I will not permit such a weakness to exist. The answer is, no."
He turned and began walking away, becoming fainter with every step into the surrounding darkness.
"Wait," yelled Harry. "I'll sweeten the deal."
Voldemort stopped moving, but did not turn back.
"I'll give you the prophecy, in its entirety. Dumbledore told it to me. He was the one who heard it in the first place."
Still the Dark Lord did not turn around.
"The locket – Slytherin's locket. Dumbledore didn't get to destroy it. It's hidden, but I won't even try to destroy it.
"And I'll take a vow," added Harry, sounding slightly desperate. "I'll promise to never raise a hand against you, or to support anybody that does, unless your people start in on us."
Finally Voldemort turned back to face Harry.
"You would do that?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious. "You would sacrifice the rest of the world just to keep your few people safe? Why?"
"Screw them," said Harry bitterly. "Look at what the Wizarding world has done to me. My whole life has been one big mess because they are a bunch of idiots. It's like they can't help themselves. If it's printed in the paper, they believe it. If it's an unfounded rumour, it must be true – they aren't worth saving. You can have them. All I want is my friends and their families."
Voldemort took several thoughtful steps back to stand in front of Harry.
"One hundred people," he said. "No more than that. I will not give you a way to include every magical person in the world because we are all related somehow."
"Okay," said Harry. "But then you have to leave all of the children alone. They've done nothing to you and it's not right for you to hurt them because their parents disagree with you."
"Very well, but only if they do not take direct action against me," he said.
"Deal," said Harry, holding out his hand.
Voldemort's thin lipped mouth bent into what passed for a grin, and he looked expectantly at Tom.
"You will be the bonder?"
Tom nodded and took out his wand.
Voldemort grasped Harry's hand in a painful grip.
"You first," he said.
Tom spoke the words of the vow.
"Will you honour the agreement made here, in word and spirit, to not oppose Voldemort in his bid to control the world unless he first breaks or does not take his vow?"
"I do," said Harry.
A thin ribbon of magic fell from the wand to surround their hands briefly before sinking into their skin.
Tom turned to Voldemort.
"Will you honour the agreement made here, in word and spirit, to spare one hundred of Harry Potter's friends and their families, selected by Harry Potter, unless they oppose you in your bid to control the world?"
"I do," said Voldemort.
The magic sank into their hands and faded away, and Harry ripped his hand out of the horrible, claw like fingers of Voldemort.
"Are we married now?" asked Harry impishly.
"The prophecy," demanded Voldemort.
Harry told him, and the Dark Lord started laughing.
"Power I know not?" he said. "There is no power I do not know of. You are right, it is a worthless thing."
"Told you," said Harry.
Voldemort turned to Tom.
"Come to me," he said.
Tom suddenly flew across the gap dividing them, and collided with the Dark Lord, but instead of going down in a tangle of limbs, he seemed to sink into the Snake-like man.
Voldemort's eyes glowed in triumph, and the widened in shock.
"You were right," he said, clutching his head in his hands. "I can see it; I can feel it. My mind, it was broken. The things I have done – what have I done?
"What have you done?" he suddenly snarled.
"You were insane," said Harry. "Now you are going to be sane. Nothing is going to be the same now. I think you are going to have a lot more success from now on, but it's going to be different."
As he spoke, the image of Voldemort began to change. His hair grew out, and his nose slowly returned.
"What is happening?" said Voldemort, feeling his face with his hands.
"Tom has more soul than you," said Harry with a smile. "You absorbed his soul, but there is more of it than there is of Voldemort, so really he absorbed you."
"No," cried Voldemort. "You tricked me! Your vow will destroy you."
Slowly, more changes came over the mental image of Voldemort, converting him into the image of Tom.
"I didn't do anything," said Harry. "Tom and you are becoming one, but you are so much less than him that you won't have control the way I did. In a few seconds more, you won't exist as anything more than the place everybody has that keeps coming up with nasty thoughts. You will never exist again. Goodbye, Voldemort."
One final ripple ran through the Dark Lord's body, and then he was gone.
"It's done," said Tom.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief, his confident and cocky attitude falling away instantly.
"What the hell was that about the Cup and the Diadem?" asked Harry, his voice a mixture of anger and strain. "I don't even know what a bloody Diadem is. If you knew what and where the other Horcruxes were, why didn't you tell me?"
"I did not recall them until after we started," explained Tom. "It just came to me, no doubt because of Voldemort's proximity."
"Well you damn nearly gave me a heart attack," said Harry, running his hand through his hair to displace the nervous sweat that had built up unnoticed. "Lucky I think quick on my feet."
"Your use of the location of the Locket was masterful," said Tom. "You didn't even hint that reason Dumbledore did not destroy it was because it was not in the basin in the cave, but it was a dangerous gamble. What if Voldemort had required its location as part of the deal?"
"I would have told him somebody else hid it so that I couldn't betray its location," said Harry without missing a beat.
Tom smiled and ran his hands over his face and body.
"I wish the outside was as easy to change as the inside," he said wistfully.
"I have no doubt you'll find a way to fix it," said Harry. "You really are brilliant."
Tom tilted his head, giving Harry a curious gaze.
"Aren't you scared that I have tricked you in some way? That the vows we took when I agreed to embark on this course have a loop hole in them that will allow me to take up Voldemort's mantle, but this time with a complete soul? Or that Voldemort still lives inside of me and will affect my actions?"
"Nah," said Harry. "I sort of meant what I said beforehand. Take over the plebs, become some sort of magical, immortal, benevolent dictator, I really don't care, just so long as you don't do it the way that nut-job was going about it and you leave me and my friends alone. Killing and torturing is a stupid plan.
"Go get voted Minister of Magic and then kick all the idiots out or something, just don't get my name mixed up in it."
"You can rest assured," said Tom, "that I will immediately put a stop to the war and begin burying this 'pure-blood and humans-only' nonsense. When I finally do take over, I want to have something grand to rule, not a small cabal of sycophants."
The light around them was starting to dim, both of their images fading away slowly.
"The link is gone," said Harry. "This won't happen again, unless you really did marry me with that 'I do' thing."
"Good bye, Harry," said Tom. "Thank you."
"Good luck," said Harry. "And lay off the Horcruxes. You've still got a few, so just leave it at that."
Then the light went out completely, leaving Harry floating in the pleasant darkness of sleep. It was the best night's rest Harry had in many years, and when he woke, it was to a new, better world.
And nobody would ever know he was the cause.