Thanks to the fab iamlordmoldyshorts for the beta. Remaining mistakes are mine. Also, portions in the middle were lifted from HBP; they belong to JK Rowling.
When Harry awoke, Tom was already gone. The room looked less bleak in the morning light but also more vacant. From the cocoon of his sleeping bag, Harry had a close-up of the scuffed floor. Tom's snake was curled on it, less than a meter away, and her yellow eyes followed Harry as he sat up. He stared back warily. He'd never been afraid of snakes, but this one was Tom's. If anything, Harry had learned never to underestimate his enemies.
Was Tom really the enemy, though? It was already becoming harder for Harry to reconcile Tom Riddle with Lord Voldemort. Tom was only eleven, not the snake-faced monster that had killed Harry's parents, nor the sinister sixteen-year-old who had lured Ginny into the Chamber of Secrets. This Tom hadn't killed yet. He still had a soul.
The emotions that he'd displayed the night before had been very human, and they'd made Harry wonder why the notebook was so important. Fortunately, from what Harry had glimpsed of it, he knew it wasn't the one destined to become a Horcrux.
"It seemsss you have questionsss. I'll anssswer them if you'll anssswer mine."
Harry jerked back, staring at the snake with surprise. She gazed back steadily, her forked tongue flicking in the air. Before Harry could decide whether to feign incomprehension, she continued.
"Don't pretend you can't underssstand me. I know very well that you can."
What were the snake's intentions?
The Gryffindor in Harry encouraged him to take a leap of faith and answer the snake, but a more cautious voice told him not to act rashly, especially when he didn't have the upper hand. Think logically, Hermione would say if she were here (and thank Merlin she wasn't).
Harry weighed his options. Responding meant getting answers, perhaps even an insider's view on Tom, but it also meant fielding questions from her, and most likely from Tom too. For now, he decided, silence would be best.
He shed the sleeping bag, keeping a careful watch on the snake until he was at the door. She chuckled as he left.
"We both know that your curiosssity will win in the end. Until then, I can wait."
The words left him with an unpleasant aftertaste, which lingered as he trekked toward the dining room. Zenaide seemed to know too much about him, despite his recent arrival.
At the bottom of the stairs, Harry glanced left and right, realizing he'd forgotten Maria's directions.
Suddenly, a voice called, "Hey! Wait up!"
Harry scarcely had time to react before someone thundered down the steps and grabbed him by the shoulders.
The voice was now in his ears. "We know what you did last night, Riddle."
Surprised, Harry ducked out of the grasp and turned around. "I'm—"
"Jacob!" Another person was hurrying down toward them. "You weren't supposed to—" Catching sight of Harry, he stopped abruptly. "You aren't Riddle."
Harry's surprise was fading, confusion taking its place. They had thought he was Tom, and at least one of them had planned a confrontation with him. Harry's stomach roiled uncomfortably as they examined him.
"Yeah, I'd thought he was Riddle too."
At Jacob's voice, the second man seemed to realize he was staring. "Sorry, you must be new. I'm Stefano, one of the cooks."
Stefano, like Jacob, looked barely out of his teens. His scruffy, dark hair topped a broad forehead, which appeared disproportionately wide compared to the rest of his body.
"Harry," the boy responded. He shook Stefano's proffered hand, aware that Jacob was regarding them both with impatience.
"You're the one rooming with Riddle, aren't you?" Not waiting for a response, Jacob barreled on, "Did he leave the room last night? Around midnight or so?"
Harry looked at the man, and slowly shook his head.
"You see?" Stefano said to Jacob, gripping him by the arm, "We need to talk about this before you start making accusations."
Harry was pretty sure that Stefano meant for the words to be private. Jacob didn't seem to care. His eyes were flashing, his hands curled into fists, but Stefano managed to steer him past Harry.
Before rounding the corner, the cook looked back at the boy. "Sorry he bothered you. I'll see you around."
Moments later, they vanished into a room down the left hall, a muttered argument trailing after them. Harry stood frozen on the steps where they'd left him.
Zenaide was right when she'd said Harry wouldn't be able to resist his curiosity. As quietly as he could, he followed Stefano and Jacob, pausing when he was close enough to hear their conversation. There weren't many nearby places to hide; he feared someone would discover him, though he was willing to take the risk. In any case, he could always dive for the nearest room.
"—bad idea all along," Stefano was saying. "Mrs. Cole shouldn't have asked us to take it in the first place."
"But she was right about it, wasn't she? You saw what was written in it. Riddle clearly belongs in a madhouse."
"It wasn't—" Stefano sighed, exasperated. "Look, it's gone now."
"And we know who took it!"
"We don't have any proof."
"The new boy—"
"Said he didn't see Riddle leaving the room," Stefano interrupted.
"Yeah, but for all we know, Riddle could've threatened him, or he could've been asleep the entire time."
Harry was so absorbed that he didn't sense the person behind him until it was too late. A hand covered his mouth, and he recoiled in shock. Craning his neck sideways, he found himself eye-to-eye with Tom Riddle. The other boy's gaze was fierce as he led Harry down the hall, pulling him into an empty room.
"What were you doing?" Tom demanded and, when Harry didn't answer, said, "So you agree with them, do you? That I belong in a madhouse?" If possible, Tom's eyes grew even darker, angrier. "Because if I do, then you do too!"
The outburst surprised Harry, but he recovered enough to reassure Tom that neither of them belonged in a madhouse.
Tom opened his mouth, then closed it, studying Harry suspiciously. "What are you trying to do? What do you want from me?"
Harry frowned. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Stop playing dumb. I heard them in there. You lied to them. You told them I was in the room the entire night. Why?"
Harry didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure he knew the reason himself.
Tom decided to try a different tactic. "I know your secret."
And with that, Harry's heart was suddenly in his throat. "What?" How could Tom possibly have known?
"My snake heard you sleep-talking last night," said Tom smugly. "You can talk to snakes."
It took a moment for Harry to understand, but once he did, his relief was so strong that he felt he could collapse. Tom didn't know he was from the future yet, and that was all that mattered. "So what?"
Tom paused, amazed. "You don't care that I know? Aren't you afraid they'll take you away, lock you up?"
Harry shook his head. "Not when you can talk to snakes too. Besides, no one would believe you if you said anything."
Tom was still incredulous. "How can you not care? You're acting as if it's normal! As if I'm normal!"
Harry felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for Tom. It seemed the boy had become accustomed to being treated as a 'freak', just as Harry had.
"What have you done to deserve otherwise?" Harry asked at last.
Tom stared at him, eyes glittering with something Harry couldn't place, and seemed to come to a decision. "I can make things happen with my mind. I can make people regret messing with me."
Harry frowned, Tom's admission a reminder of the suffering he would cause, and as quickly as it'd come, Harry's sympathy dissipated. Against his better judgment, Harry met Tom's gaze squarely in challenge. "You aren't the only one."
Tom's eyes narrowed. Without another word, he turned and stalked out of the room. Harry was left alone.
. . .
After fumbling his way to the dining room, Harry took his breakfast at an empty back table, not expecting to interact with anyone. To his surprise, halfway through his meal, a girl approached to introduce herself as Annie. She smiled with dimples and asked if Harry wanted to come out to play later.
"David has a new ball, and we need another person on our team."
Harry hesitated. Agreeing would be the polite answer, but he was suddenly aware that he knew nothing about eleven-year-olds in the late thirties. He didn't want to make a mistake, and he especially didn't want to explain one away.
He was finally saved from responding by Maria, the gangly girl who'd shown him around yesterday.
"There you are," she said, walking up to Harry while ignoring Annie's presence. "You need to go back to your room. There's a man here who wants to speak to you and Riddle."
Harry frowned. "Why?"
"I dunno. He claims to be a professor." She peered closely at the boy. "Are you okay?"
Harry blinked before nodding rapidly. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine."
"If you say so." Maria shrugged and left.
"Who d'you reckon it is?" asked Annie, once the older girl was gone.
"I'm not sure." He didn't dare think who it might be, though the knowledge loomed in the back of his head. Gulping down the last bites of food, he said goodbye to Annie and started back up to his room. Outside the door, he paused, listening to the voices floating out.
"Who are you?" Tom Riddle was asking.
"I have told you. My name is Professor Dumbledore and I work at a school called Hogwarts."
The rest of Dumbledore's words washed over Harry, a dim smear of sound in his ears as he suddenly became very aware of his own breathing. He wanted nothing more than to pitch forward—let the wall take his weight—and he couldn't decide between staying where he was or entering the room. The choice was decided for him when he could hear Dumbledore again.
"I will tell you everything you need to know, but I can't continue until your roommate joins us."
It was useless to delay the inevitable. Harry braced himself and, with a deep breath, reached forward, pushing the door open to step inside. There sat Dumbledore in his plum velvet suit and Tom in his orphanage garb, just as Harry had expected. Despite being prepared for it, he still felt as though punched in the gut.
"You must be Harry Pennington." Dumbledore stood, reaching forward to offer his hand. Harry hesitated only briefly before shaking it, and he counted that as a success.
"As I was telling Tom," continued Dumbledore, seating himself, "I am Professor Dumbledore. Allow me to tell you about the school I work at—"
"School," sneered Tom. "You can't kid me! The asylum, that's where you're from, isn't it?"
Harry watched faintly, silent, as the scene unraveled before him. It almost seemed that he was back in Dumbledore's Pensieve sixth year. The only difference was that when Dumbledore addressed Tom's concerns, he also glanced toward Harry, who had moved to perch on the windowsill by the wardrobe.
Tom was arguing vociferously now, Dumbledore attempting to appease him:
"I know that you are not mad. Hogwarts is not a school for mad people. It is a school of magic."
The abrupt silence was thick. Tom's gaze flicked between Harry and Dumbledore. "It's... it's magic, what I can do?"
"That's right. Magic is what both of you can do."
"And you can do it too?"
"Prove it," Tom commanded. "Tell the truth."
Years of alienation, and this was the result, thought Harry, feeling ill as Dumbledore chastised Tom: "If, as I take it, you are accepting your place at Hogwarts—"
"Of course I am!"
"Then you will address me as 'Professor' or 'sir'."
The boy's expression morphed, icy for a fleeting moment. But when his face cleared, his tone was impossibly polite. "I'm sorry, sir. I meant—please, Professor, could you show me—?"
Dumbledore raised his wand, and at the sight, Harry's heart began hammering. Suddenly he saw himself back in the Ministry atrium, dodging and fighting to survive. He sensed Dumbledore's spell and everything seemed to slow. He couldn't breathe. All he could hear was a rushing in his ears, and he could think of nothing but defending himself.
He deflected instinctively when the spell came, before returning to awareness just as the wall opposite burst into flames. Tom and Dumbledore were staring at him. Harry blinked.
"I'm sorry," he said hurriedly, glancing at the wardrobe beside him. He remembered now that it was the intended target. "I don't know what came over me."
Dumbledore recovered first, dousing the fire to reveal an undamaged wall. "It wasn't your fault. I should have warned you."
The way Harry was being studied unnerved him.
Dumbledore continued to regard Harry with an unreadable look as he said, "May I ask who your parents were?"
Harry swallowed. "I don't remember, sir. The doctors say I have amnesia."
From the corner of his eye, he noticed Tom's flash of surprise and remembered that he'd never told the other boy.
Dumbledore appeared contemplative. "There are methods to determine one's lineage. However, that is a matter for another day." He reached into his suit pocket and drew out two envelopes. "In these, you will find your train ticket and your list of equipment."
"But we haven't got any money," Tom spoke for the first time since Harry's outburst of magic.
"That is easily remedied. There is a fund at Hogwarts for those who require assistance to buy books and robes. Though you may have to buy some of them secondhand, I'll be there to help you find whatever you need."
"You'll be coming with us?" asked Tom.
"Certainly, if you—"
"I don't need you. I'm used to doing things for myself. I go around London on my own all the time."
"What about you, Harry?"
Harry paused, thinking, and then said he would be fine on his own. Dumbledore nodded, giving them the instructions to Diagon Alley, and then stood.
"I'll see you in September, boys." Dumbledore offered to shake their hands again, and once more Harry felt disconcerted, pinned beneath the man's scrutiny. He didn't realize until after Dumbledore left that Tom's treasure box hadn't been discovered—and Tom hadn't made a mention of Parseltongue. With Harry here, it seemed the past was already turning out differently.
He tore his mind away from the implications when he heard Tom get up and head for the door.
"Where are you going?"
Tom cast him a defensive look. "Diagon Alley. Got a problem with that?"
He left before Harry could answer. For a split second, Harry stared after him, then leapt up and grabbed his Hogwarts envelopes, racing out to follow Tom.
. . .
Though Harry had traveled through the city after being discharged from the hospital, it was his first time on the streets. This London was like a dream, familiar, fitting yet strange. It was less polished, and everywhere Harry looked, the cars, buildings and people appeared painfully outdated. Girls in summer dresses, men in hats; a whir of activity. Harry was reminded of a historic attraction where the setting was well planned and the actors wore old-fashioned clothes, pretending to be from another era. But none of this was pretend. Surreal as it may have been, it was now Harry's reality.
He kept a block's distance between himself and Tom, remaining hidden, and arrived at the Leaky Cauldron to find the wizarding world largely unchanged. Sixty years in the past, and the wizards and witches were still dressed the same. Their world—his world—had remained seemingly static. He even recognized most of the stores. As he passed Quality Quidditch he paused to examine the brooms on display. He felt eleven all over again, discovering the wonderful world of magic.
A large family jostled by, and Harry saw, from the corner of his eye, a sea of blazing red. The Weasleys—they had to be. He couldn't help but stare.
"Come along now, Lucy," the mother was clucking at a little girl.
"Yeah, Luce, don't get lost now," said one of her brothers.
The girl, Lucy, scowled and said nothing.
Memories of another Weasley generation welled up in Harry, unbidden, and he fought to swallow a lump. When he finally managed to look away, he realized that he'd lost sight of Tom.
He frowned, scanning the crowds, but Tom was nowhere in sight. He started forward slowly through the streams of people, searching for a familiar head of black hair. After a few minutes, he started to worry. Tom could be anywhere by now, and without him, Harry wasn't sure he'd be able to find his way back to the orphanage. Besides, Harry had wanted to keep an eye out for the boy.
Then abruptly he felt a hand clamp down on his arm, and when he glanced up, Tom was glowering at him.
"I know you followed me. I'm not stupid."
Harry stared, shaking his head before shaking off his surprise, taking Tom's presence in stride. "I know you aren't."
When Tom continued to glower, Harry offered with a shrug: "I wasn't going to be able to find this place on my own, and I didn't think you'd want me with you, so I followed you."
Honesty, it seemed, was the way to stop Tom in his tracks. The boy looked at Harry wordlessly for a long moment and then huffed. With just a little less malice, he said, "Fine, c'mon then."
Surprised at the concession, Harry trailed after Tom as Tom led them to the nearest apothecary. The witch who ran it was eager to assist them, and they left with a cauldron each, along with a menagerie of basic potions supplies. From there, they gathered their materials meticulously, entering and exiting two bookstores and a secondhand clothes store. Whenever Harry glanced at Tom, he was struck by how much Tom reminded him of himself. At age eleven, Diagon Alley had been the most amazing experience of Harry's life. It was clear Tom was quietly awed too, and the boy didn't even try to hide it—much.
They were just leaving a miscellaneous supply store when Harry heard the screams, and suddenly Diagon Alley was aflutter with motion. Harry looked up, to where many people were pointing fearfully. The source of the danger, it seemed, was a group of creatures descending rapidly from the sky. Harry had no name for them.
They swarmed, a glittering flock of them, half serpent, half dragon, screeching through the air. They breathed fire at the buildings, bowled over people, knocked tiles and shingles loose and shattered windows with their tails and claws. Around Harry, Diagon Alley was emptying quickly, its patrons diving for cover in shops and alleyways. He scrambled to follow but realized, as he swam through the panicked masses, that Tom wasn't with him. He looked back and spotted the boy alone in the middle of the main street, the swirling creatures almost upon him.
"Tom!" Harry yelled. "Tom, get back!"
He couldn't see Tom's face. All he could see was the boy's frozen silhouette, framed in a thousand gilded scales.
Still no movement from Tom. Cursing, Harry glanced about him. Even now, there were fewer people around than there were a moment before, both adults and children alike seeking shelter. No one was paying him or Tom any mind, entirely focused on his or her own safety.
The creatures were loud, hissing and spitting. Tom was still alone and motionless. Harry grimaced, swore, and dived back into the street, ignoring the shouted protests that followed him.
The creatures—there must have been a dozen of them—circled like a magical maelstrom around Tom. Closer now, Harry could hear what they were hissing. It sounded like Parseltongue, but a strange variant thereof:
"Stupid humans, stupid curses, stupid... loud... Why did the golden wizard force us here?"
After a moment of shock, Harry realized the creatures were disgruntled. He had an absurd flashback to the snake in the zoo that had never been to Brazil.
"Stop, please!" Harry heard himself say in Parseltongue. To his astonishment, and to the astonishment of all those watching from the storefronts and windows, the creatures slowed. As one, they whirled on him, their snakelike eyes narrowed.
"Who is this strange child who speaks our language?" they whispered amongst themselves. "Human child, man in disguise, what do you want?"
Harry blinked. He cleared his throat. "My friend—you have him surrounded. I just want to get him out."
They were briefly silent, before hissing in a strange manner. At length, Harry parsed that they were laughing.
"And why is that, strange man-child?" one asked. It was of a magnificent green and gold.
After a moment, Harry settled for honesty: "You are quite fearsome creatures. And I, we, don't want to be any trouble."
"But humans such as yourself have already made trouble for our kind... Your sentiment, though, is wishful thinking we both share. Tell me now, man-child, what do you know of magical enslavement?"
The non sequitur made Harry pause. "Er, nothing, I'm afraid."
"Creatures like us—we can be enslaved by wizardry, but ancient magic dictates that we can break the bond, if only we were to swear fealty to another. How do you feel, man-child, about receiving our loyalty?"
"Well, I, I—" Harry didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure his brain had caught up yet. A week ago, back at the hospital, he hadn't thought his situation could become any more surreal. Now he was sure he'd been wrong.
The creatures were noiseless now, suspended gracefully in the air. The green-gold serpent spoke for them:
"Never mind your feelings; we have decided. You, man-child, will have the honor of being our lord—" It uttered something strange, foreign, and Harry gasped as white heat spread over his wrist. Looking down, he saw a glowing insignia wrapped around his skin but didn't have the time to study it, as the creature spoke once more. "Call us in your time of need, but do not abuse the privilege. Goodbye, now."
And they were gone.
Harry and Tom stood alone in the street. Catching sight of the other boy, Harry felt the world right itself a little, somehow.
"C'mon," he said to Tom, tugging him away.
Tom was staring at him with an unreadable expression, similar to the one Dumbledore had given earlier, and Harry found it difficult to meet his eyes. He pulled Tom into the first shop they reached. Inside, he realized it was Ollivander's. The wandmaker's shop was much more crowded than usual, from the refugees who had flocked inside, and Harry noticed that the wizards and witches were all staring at him.
Ducking his face, he steered Tom further into the back, away from the attention.
"This place sells wands," Harry muttered to Tom. "We should get ours now."
Tom nodded and said nothing. As if on cue, Ollivander appeared before them. He seemed taller than Harry remembered, sprightly, with brown hair unlike the white of his older self.
"Good morning," said the man, studying them intently. "We have had strange happenings this morning, haven't we? Well, we'll put that aside now. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ollivander, the wandmaker."
The boys followed suit, and Harry saw that the man took note when Harry gave his name. For what reason, Harry didn't know, but Ollivander did comment on his remarkable likeness to the members of the Potter clan. Harry pretended ignorance.
"Well," said Ollivander, "who wants to go first?"
Harry and Tom traded a look. Then Harry nudged Tom forward. "Go on."
Harry watched as Ollivander gathered his measurements, examining Tom carefully, before hurrying to one of the shelves. He pulled out a number of rectangular boxes, giving his speech about the custom made wands as he went, and when he returned, he prompted Tom to give them a go.
The sixth wand that Tom picked up, yew and thirteen-and-a-half inches, lit up like a firecracker. It was the phoenix feather wand. Tom was absolutely delighted, smiling for the first time since Harry had met him. Harry tried not to stare, at either the wand or the boy.
It was his turn next. He went through even more wands than Tom did before Ollivander fixed him with a curious look. Silently, the man hurried to one of the shelves and pulled out another box.
"Try this one," he told Harry. "Eleven inches, holly, phoenix feather. Nice and supple."
Harry already knew the end results, but that didn't stop the rush of warmth he felt when he was reunited—or perhaps pre-united?—with his wand again. As soon as his fingers closed around it, red and gold sparks shot into the air, dancing ebulliently.
When they eventually dissipated, Harry was allowed an unobstructed view to a very familiar look on Ollivander's face. Except, this time, the look wasn't only directed at Harry.
"Curious, very curious."
Tom frowned. "What is?"
"That you and your companion have been chosen by brother wands," Ollivander explained. "This is quite a rare phenomenon. For this to happen to two wizards in the same generation, at the same time no less, is unheard of."
"Is that a bad thing?" Tom was growing defensive.
"No, no! Far from it! I expect great things out of you two. Great things." Ollivander didn't elaborate further. As soon as they paid for the wands, depleting their funds significantly, Ollivander ushered them out of the store.
Thank you for reading. To be continued.