Part III: Years
The broom was small and plain—a child's broom. But from the apprehensive look in Tom's eyes, one would think that he was being confronted by a monster.
"The trick is to be in control of the broom. Don't let the broom be in control you," Harry instructed.
The seven-year-old nodded, but still did not make any motions toward the broom laying limp in the grass.
The aforementioned boy looked up. "Yes?"
"Are you sure you want to try this now? I mean, we could always do this later, if you'd like..."
With a firm shake of the head, Tom replied, "Of course. I've always wanted to fly."
"If you're sure then," said Harry. "Now, the first step is to put your hand over the broom. Like this—"
The Chosen One demonstrated, placing his right hand above the broom. Tom reached out to mimic the movement with his dominant left hand.
"That's good. Now you have to command it to go up by saying 'up'. Except you have to say it like you really mean it. You have to be convinced that the broom's going to listen to you."
Nodding, Tom said, "Up!"
The broom rose with a Whoosh!, but did not jump into Tom's hands. Instead, it hovered midair a few inches from the boy's outstretched fingers. Harry's eyes widened at the unexpected result.
"Did I do something wrong?" the youth asked uncertainly.
"No, no. I just didn't think it would float like that."
"...Didn't you mean for me to make it float? That's why I said 'up', right...?"
Understanding graced Harry's face. So the broom was floating because Tom wished for it to float, thought Harry. That was a good sign.
"Ahh...I had expected it to jump up into your hands, but I never specifically told you that. This is certainly different, but different isn't bad."
His surrogate brother bobbed his head. "Now what?"
"Now you do like this—" Harry waved his wand and summoned his own broom, straddling it in a fluid motion.
Tom copied him and the wizard smiled in approval.
Harry continued, "Good. Now, gently push off of the ground with your feet."
Nervously, the dark-eyed boy did so. And he rose—
"It's okay, Tom. Don't panic now."
"No! No, it's not! I wanna get down!"
"Okay, okay." Harry reached up with both arms, and found that Tom was just out of reach. His stomach sank.
Deciding to change tactics, the former Gryffindor commanded, "All you have to do to get down is lean forwards a little and shift your weight—"
Tom said flatly, "I can't."
"You can, Tom."
"Yes, you can!"
"I wanna get dooown."
Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, the Chosen One, the Vanquisher of the Dark, was known for his level-headedness in battle. Even in the most panic-inducing situations, he was able to instruct his forces without batting a lash. Senior Aurors envied his calm. Looking at him now though, they would suspect that he was actually an imposter in disguise as the emerald-eyed wizard.
Because if he could defeat evil with complete composure, surely he could remember that a simple incantation was all that was necessary for lowering his young ward.
"I wanna get down!" Tom was floundering midair, thrashing like a fish out of water.
"Now," a clear voice cut through their discourse, "what is going on here?"
The duo turned towards the source of the authoritative words—a gray-haired lady, regally beautiful in old age, with her arms crossed sternly.
"I could hear you from the kitchen! You should be thankful that Teddy wasn't woken up by you two!"
"Sorry Aunt 'Dromeda," Harry and Tom said in unison, both looking the perfect picture of penitence.
"You are on my property, so I expect good behavior from the both of you." Andromeda's demands were not to be taken lightly, especially now that they lived with her and Teddy. "Now tell me: What seems to be the problem?"
"Well, er..." Harry said as he motioned to the dark-haired boy. "He's, erm..."
Andromeda looked from the boy in the air, to the young adult on the ground. Tom's green t-shirt was whipping about his body, and his pale skin was even more colorless than usual. Harry had his hands stuck in the pockets of his cargo shorts; his shoulders were hunched with embarrassment.
The elderly lady arched a brow. "I see. Harry James Potter, did it not cross your mind that you are a wizard? That you can do spells with a wand? And that you have a broom to assist you in flying?"
Harry winced. "...No."
She sighed with exasperation, and pulled out her own wand. A flick of the wrist later, Tom was back on solid earth, his cheeks flushed a bright pink.
"I—" he stuttered as he stood shakily. "I think I'm going to stick with football from now on."
The Vanquisher of the Dark glared down at his empty plate. From beside him, the ten-year-old former Dark Lord was swallowing his last bits of biscuit along with his mischievous grin.
Slowly, Harry said, "You ate all of my biscuits."
Tom's wide-eyed look of innocence was ruined by the giggle that escaped from his mouth.
"You ate all of my biscuits," the twenty-two-year-old repeated flatly. "You're such a pig."
"Takes one to know one."
"Gah!" Harry exclaimed. "You're not supposed to have snappy comebacks yet! You're only ten!"
"It's 'cos I live with you. You're a bad influence." Tom's large, dark eyes were alight with laughter.
Outwardly, the young man allowed himself to appear annoyed, but the inner, paternal part of his mind was very satisfied. Over the past five years, his ward had grown into a happy, open boy—so completely different from the cold, vicious person he had seen in Dumbledore's Pensieve. This Tom, his Tom, still possessed the same charisma as the other Tom, but it was coupled with a witty, pleasant personality that caused the youth to seem irresistibly adorable.
Harry was already starting to worry about how much his young charge would be able to get away with at Hogwarts. With each passing year, Tom became more charmingly devious and Harry became more of a brotherly figure than a fatherly figure. However, the former Gryffindor refused to tolerate cruelty for the sake of cruelty; he would not hesitate to return to being a serious parent if Tom truly misbehaved.
"You're both bad influences on Teddy."
In unison, Harry and Tom turned to see Andromeda entering the kitchen.
As the elderly woman ruffled through various cabinets and drawers, she continued, "Tom, you're gluttonous—I honestly don't know how you can eat so much and stay so skinny—and Harry, you're immature."
Her words belied the fond tone in her voice. The two males exchanged grins.
"Oh, but you love us anyway," said Harry.
"Of course I do."
Tom piped up, "But you love me more!"
Their adopted grandmother laughed, shaking her head at their antics.
"Er, Aunt 'Dromeda, what are you looking for?" the young adult asked.
Andromeda paused, and her brows furrowed in thought. "Hmm...I seem to have forgotten... It must be my old age."
At those words, Harry felt an unexplainable tendril of dread slither down his spine. Quickly, he shook off the feeling, calling it ridiculous. 'Andromeda's dementia is caused by old age and nothing else,' he told himself firmly. 'There's no need to be worried.'
The traffic light turned red and Harry slowed to a stop. In the back seat of his inconspicuous, black BMW, Tom was bouncing with nervous anticipation. Although Harry possessed an Apparition license, both he and Tom found that method of travel to be nauseating. Floo wasn't much better—and that was why the Boy-Who-Lived (now Man-Who-Lived) obtained a driver's license and purchased a car.
"Now, the press will be there—" the older man was saying.
"Yes, yes," Tom cut off impatiently. "I know."
Harry sighed. "Okay, Tom. Tell the truth now—what are you worried about?"
"What makes you think I'm worried?" snapped the eleven-year-old.
"You're only this rude when you're worried or irritated, and I don't see why you'd be irritated about starting at Hogwarts, so..." Harry let his sentence trail off, allowing Tom to fill in the rest.
"Ugh." Tom doubled over, pressing his forehead to his knees. "What if everyone looks at me like...like I'm Voldemort? Imagine if I got sorted into Slytherin! The newspapers would have a field day. I'm dooomed."
"The newspapers will have a field day no matter where you end up, Tom," his surrogate brother said quietly. "Everyone's curious about how the former Dark Lord turned out. I tried to keep you out of the spotlight for as long as possible, but now that you're going to school..."
Harry pulled into King's Cross' car park and Tom groaned.
"We're here," said the older of the two.
"I can see that," Tom said touchily, starting to push open the car door.
The emerald-eyed wizard turned in his seat and reached back to catch the young boy's arm. "Wait. Let's talk for a moment."
"What is there to talk about?" Tom groused as he folded his arms.
"You. Your feelings."
The youth said nothing.
Sighing, Harry queried, "Okay, where do you think you'll be sorted? Where do you want to be sorted?"
A noncommittal 'hm' was accompanied by a shrug.
"Is it Slytherin? You know I wouldn't care if you were sorted there or not."
Tom finally looked up, meeting Harry's eyes squarely. "No."
Sinking lower into his seat cushions, the boy dejectedly gave in. "I don't want to be sorted into Slytherin, but that's probably where I'll end up."
"How are you so sure?"
"Because what, Tom? Because the sky is blue? Because the sun rises in the east?"
"No!" Growling, Tom passed a hand through his dark locks. "Because that's where Voldemort went. And he and I are the same."
Harry stared...and then started to laugh.
"Why are you laughing?" Tom asked, annoyed. "What's so funny?"
"You. That's what," the taller of the two replied. "How many times have I said that you and Voldemort are not the same? You are not the same! Get that through your head."
"It's a bit early for you to start acting like a teenager, Tom." Harry's eyes were sparkling with laughter.
"Well, like everyone says, I've always been mature for my age."
"Teenagers are not mature."
The two fell into a silence. As Harry studied him, Tom glared at a random spot on the dashboard.
After a long moment, Harry finally asked, "Is it Ravenclaw? Is that where you want to be?"
The boy's gaze snapped toward his guardian. "How did you know?"
Chuckling softly, the former Gryffindor said, "I've known you since you were five."
Silently, Harry yanked open his door and Tom did so as well. After the smaller Parselmouth pulled out his trunk, which Harry had transfigured into a backpack and spelled for lightness, the two headed for the entrance of King's Cross station. The interior was as busy as ever, and the pair blended easily with the muggles. Neither had dressed up, even though they both knew that reporters would take their pictures.
They did not speak until they were just a short distance from the barrier of 9 3/4.
"Y'know, the Sorting Hat takes your opinions into account," Harry said as he sidled casually toward the bricks.
"Huh?" Tom followed suit.
The Chosen One scanned their surroundings. No one payed them any mind.
"The Sorting Hat. If you tell it that you want to be put into Ravenclaw, it'll listen." As Harry explained this, he leaned into the wall and disappeared.
Tom, who had been aware of the magic of 9 3/4's barrier, did not even bat an eyelash. Instead, he did the same, and reappeared on the other side moments later.
"It does?" The soon-to-be Hogwarts student sounded none too convinced.
"Well, I begged it not to put me into Slytherin. So it put me into Gryffindor instead."
"Wait...," The meaning of Harry's words registered with Tom, and he stopped walking in favor of staring at his companion incredulously. "You? Slytherin? How come you never told me about this?"
"You never asked."
Harry tugged at the strap on Tom's backpack and, realizing what the wizard wanted, Tom allowed the bag to slip off of his shoulders. The man then pulled out his wand and proceeded to transform the backpack back into a trunk.
"There you go, Tom."
Disoriented, the two looked looked around for the origins of the bright light. Catching sight of a horde of paparazzi struggling toward them, they groaned simultaneously. So many questions were shouted at the same time that they could not distinguish who was saying what.
"That's your cue to get on the train, Tom," Harry said, affectionately patting the young boy's shoulder.
Tom gazed up at him, and seemed to struggle with his words for a moment. "I—I'm gonna miss you. Tell Aunt 'Dromeda and Teddy that I'll miss them too."
The dark-haired man beamed. "All right. Make sure you write often."
Quickly, Tom clambered onto Hogwart's Express. Harry turned away, trying to keep himself from thinking sappy thoughts like 'My little boy's growing up so fast.'
They were staring, and Tom didn't like it. Even though the sorting, along with Headmistress McGonagall's speech, had concluded several minutes ago, incredulous looks were still being shot his way.
No one, absolutely no one, had expected Tom Riddle—Voldemort!—to be sorted into any house other than Slytherin. Tom was the only one who had anticipated the Sorting Hat's decision—Ravenclaw. His pleasure was overridden by the desire for everyone to stop staring!
The greeting caught the former Dark Lord's attention. Much like Tom, the boy who had spoken could have been classified as tall for his age. But, truthfully, he was more burly than tall. He had wavy, brown hair and light, blue eyes.
"Hi," Tom responded cautiously.
"I'm Matthew Wood. But most people call me Matt...or sometimes Hey You."
The blue-eyed boy didn't sound hostile, and his words caused Tom to smile.
"I'm Tom Riddle. But most people call me the former Dark Lord."
Matt laughed. "Well, my Lordship, what do you think of Quidditch?"
Involuntarily, Tom shuddered. "Football, my friend, football is the way to go."
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Only one person was allowed to call him by that nickname (and get away with it too): Teddy Lupin. Tom had approximately two seconds to react before the seven-year-old tackled him. Bright, purple hair testified to how ecstatic the younger boy was.
"Nice to see you too, Teddy." The second year was laughing as he wrapped his arms around the Metamorphagus.
"Did you have fun at school? Did you learn a lot of new spells? Did you get over your fear of brooms? Did you miss me?"
Chortling, Tom said, "Yes, yes, no, and yes—I missed you lots."
"Good," Teddy grinned. "I missed you too. Primary school is fun, and we learn a lot too. But I'm always around muggles—" the boy wrinkled his nose, "not that I have anything against them, but Harry and 'Dromeda says I have to keep magic a secret."
"And do you?"
"Of course!" The seven-year-old looked slightly affronted. "I'm a good boy."
Fondly, the Hogwarts student shook his head. He then glanced up and caught sight of Harry, beaming in the background.
"What, no greeting for me?" the man mock pouted.
On Platform 9 3/4, they were given a wide berth. Most of the wizarding world was still uncertain of how to react to the sight of a former Dark Lord showing affection to his 'little brother', whilst the Great Harry Potter looked on with an indulgent smile.
"'Lo Harry!" Tom greeted.
Before Harry could respond, a figure exited the red steam engine and called out:
"Tom, you left your scarf."
"Oh, thanks Matt." Tom turned to his friend and took the offered item.
"How are you doing, Matt?" Harry inquired with a smile.
During the summer after first year, Tom's best friend had visited often. Thus Matt and Harry had become acquainted.
The brunet said politely, "Great, Mr. Potter. How are you?"
"I'm doing fine, thank you."
At that moment, a deep voice sounded. "Matt?"
The group turned to see the owner of the Scottish brogue.
"Oliver!" Harry exclaimed, pleasantly surprised by the appearance of his former Quidditch captain. "Long time no see."
For a second, the Scot seemed taken aback before a smile spread over his face. "Yes, it has been a long time. It seems that my nephew and your...er—"
Oliver hesitated, unsure of how to describe the relationship between Tom and Harry.
Nodding, Harry continued for him, "Tom and Matt seem to be good friends...Well, when they aren't arguing over the merits of football versus Quidditch."
The older man laughed. "Indeed. Of course, you would know whose side I'm on in such an argument."
"Still loving Quidditch, huh? I haven't played in a while..."
"Then we should get the team back together sometime to play a few friendly games," Oliver suggested half-jokingly.
"That sounds like fun." Harry glanced down at his watch. "Well, we've got to get going. Have a nice holiday, Oliver."
Matt punched Tom's arm lightly as he walked passed. "Happy Christmas, Lordship. See you when we get back."
Harry aimed a curious look in his surrogate brother's direction. "Lordship?"
"Oh." Tom flushed a little. "It's kind of a joke. Y'know—since I used to be the 'Dark Lord'."
The two Parselmouths started to walk toward the exit, with Teddy skipping up ahead of them.
"Well, just hope that the Daily Prophet doesn't get wind of that nickname. Imagine what they would say."
"Ha, I can see the headline now: Former Dark Lord Attempts to Regain Forces."
"There's something we need to talk about."
Tom stopped clearing away the dishes. Subconsciously, he had been expecting something like this. After they had arrived at home, Harry's mood had steadily darkened. It seemed that he was trying to appear cheerful but, when he thought no one was looking, a serious expression would steal across his face.
"Yeah?" said Tom.
"Why don't you take a seat," Harry stalled.
The boy did so, choosing a seat at the dinner table opposite from his guardian. He took a moment to study Harry: the man was now twenty-four and he looked tired. The skin beneath his eyes appeared bruised and darker than normal, while the skin on the rest of his body appeared paler than normal.
"I know Christmas time is supposed to be full of cheer, but I have some bad news."
Tom swallowed. "Yes?"
"Have you...Have you noticed anything off about Aunt 'Dromeda?" Harry asked gently.
Frowning down at the green, checkered tablecloth, Tom went over his memories of Andromeda. He could still recall the first time he met her. It had been seven years ago, and she had brought over biscuits. He remembered thinking that she was so very nice and lively. Throughout the years that he'd known her, she had always been able to keep up with him. But he wasn't blind—he could see her health gradually deteriorating. Bit by bit, her wide palette of expressions had been reduced to either a feeble smile or a confused frown.
She seemed to forget a lot.
"Is she sick?"
Harry's eyes widened before a wry smile graced his face. "I always forget how perceptive you are. Yes, Aunt 'Dromeda is sick. She...," his voice cracked a little, "I took her to St. Mungos, but they couldn't figure out what was wrong. We went to see several specialists, before a Healer recommended that we try a muggle doctor."
"When—when was this?" Tom could feel the invisible fingers of dread wrapping around his throat, causing his words to sound choked.
"September, right after you started your second year."
"So...did you go to the muggle doctors?"
Harry sighed and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Yes. Yes, she was diagnosed a few weeks ago. Tom, you've heard of Alzheimer's, right?"
"Er, that's the muggle disease where a person steadily loses their memory...?" The boy really did not like the direction this conversation was heading in.
"That's right. But it isn't a condition that just affects muggles. It's a condition that affects humans, and wizards and witches are humans too."
"You're saying...you're saying that Aunt 'Dromeda has Alzheimer's?"
Solemnly, Harry nodded. "I wish it wasn't so..."
When Tom heard the confirmation, an odd thing happened. Outrage coursed through his veins and his thoughts hazed, yet he felt as if his convictions had never been so clear. There was no way Andromeda could have been afflicted by this ailment—no way, no way.
Distantly, he heard a breathy, "No," and only afterwards did he realize that it was he who had spoken the denial.
"No! We have magic, Harry! We're wizards! Isn't there some way to save her?" His voice sounded borderline hysterical, even to himself.
"There are potions that can slow the degeneration of her nerves, and other spells that can temporarily restore her memory. But these methods only postpone the inevitable. Over time, they'll become less and less effective. Magic has its limitations." When Harry saw that Tom wasn't convinced, he continued, "Think about it, Tom. Even with magic, can males get pregnant? Can we make the Earth rotate the other way?"
Tom said nothing. His mind felt numb.
Harry pursed his lips, and Tom feared that the former Gryffindor was about to get angry with him. But the older man didn't. Instead, he stood up, walked to Tom's side of the table, and wrapped his arm around the boy.
Silence reigned for a long moment, before the stiffness left the youth's body. Slowly, he allowed his head to drop onto Harry's shoulder.
"I don't want her to die, Harry." His voice sounded pathetically small, but did that really matter?
"I know. Me neither."
Tom stumbled over his next words, "Wh—what's her prognosis?"
"Five years," the other half-blood whispered. "She might still be around for your graduation."
"I h—hope so." The words were muffled, because he had buried his head into the crook of Harry's neck, taking what meager comfort he could gain from physical contact.
They stayed like that, embracing tightly. Tom wasn't sure how much time had passed, and he couldn't bring himself to care.
Finally, he queried, "Does Teddy know?"
Another long pause ensued. Untended, the flames in the fireplace grew weaker and weaker until they sputtered and died completely. Bars of cold moonlight slanted in from the window and—high in the heavens—myriad stars winked, as unaffected as always by life and death, joy and grief.
The world still turned.
"Thanks for telling me," Tom murmured.
The disheartening news cast the rest of the holidays into a dour light. Teddy was blissfully unaware of the situation though, and continued to be his normal, cheerful self. And on the 31st of December, Tom was rudely awoken by the little, bouncing ball of energy.
"Happy birthday, Tom!" the little boy lilted as he hopped up and down on Tom's bed. "Harry wants to see you in the kitchen!"
"Erm." The older boy tried to blink the sleep from his eyes. "Okay."
He forced himself out of bed and padded down the stairs. Teddy had wandered off somewhere along the way, so he ended up in the kitchen alone.
Harry was hunched over the Daily Prophet, and Tom found that to be very odd. The Savior of the Wizarding World often denounced the press, and it was extremely rare for him to pick up a copy of the news.
Almost as if he could read Tom's mind, Harry relayed, "Hermione fire-called me this morning. Told me to get myself a copy of the Prophet."
Silently, the man passed the paper to the boy.
Tom read over the headline:
Former Dark Lord Attempts to Regain Forces?
Beneath, there was a picture of him and his group of friends.
"Let me guess," said Harry. "You don't know whether you should feel horrified or amused."
"Pretty much. Please tell me this is a joke."
"I could, but then I would be lying. Anyway, take a look at the article while I scramble some eggs," the Chosen One said.
As Tom read over the page, both his horror and amusement increased. It started with speculation about why Harry had taken him in:
Harry James Potter, Order of Merlin, First Class, is the sole known survivor of the Killing Curse. During his Hogwarts years, his heroic escapades were highly publicized...Tom skipped over the next portion, having heard many firsthand accounts of Harry's adventures at Hogwarts...He has authored many bestselling books on such topics as practical defense and duelling techniques, and is widely hailed as the greatest Light wizard of our time. So now we ask 'why'? Why was he so willing to adopt the Dark wizard, formerly known as Voldemort, after the events of the Final Battle seven years ago? Could it be possible that the Dark Lord had charmed him with spells? Perhaps Harry Potter is now merely a puppet, and Tom Riddle is just biding his time—waiting for the right moment to return.
And it was followed by anonymous students discussing how charming and intelligent he was:
"He's in Ravenclaw, and he's the smartest student in our year. He gets things really quickly, almost like he's learned the information before."
"He has a huge group of friends, but they seem more...more like admirers, I guess. He seems to keep his 'inner circle' small—only a few students really know who he is."
One particular quote jumped out at him:
"I've heard some people calling him 'Lordship'."
It caused a great deal of laughter on his part.
When he finally finished, he made a decision: It was time for him to learn about Voldemort—not the name or the two-dimensional character mentioned in textbooks and newspapers, but the person who had terrorized a whole country and whose infamy was immortalized. It was time for him to confront his past.
He cleared his throat, and outlined the best way to approach his adopted father. "Harry? It's my birthday today."
The Chosen One turned to him with an odd look, clearly surprised that Tom had not brought up the article. "I haven't forgotten, Tom."
"Yes, well, in honor of me becoming a teenager, I thought you could show me your memories of Voldemort and the war."
Tom opened his mouth to argue, before realizing that Harry had agreed. "Okay?"
"Wait, okay? Just like that? No arguing?"
Amused, Harry reaffirmed, "No arguing. You've always been mature for your age, and I figured that if you think you're ready, then you probably are. But may I ask why you're suddenly asking this?"
"It's hardly sudden. I've been curious for a while now. When I read things like this," Tom gesticulated at the newspaper, "it makes me wonder even more. I want to know, Harry. I want to know about my past."
"All right. I'll get out my Pensieve after breakfast." Harry placed a plate of eggs and toast before Tom. "Some of the things that you'll see...well just don't eat too much if you think there's a chance you'll throw up."
His words were not reassuring.
It was horrific.
Tom did not think there were enough adjectives in the English language to describe how awful the war was. In Harry's memories, he encountered victim after victim—starved, raped, bloodied, tortured. He was confronted by the dark nature of humans, the monster that resided within all men's hearts, and, worst of all, he saw just how much potential he possessed for achieving evil.
Some of the things he saw made him want to find a deep, dark hole and crawl in it. And wait to die.
"Tom, there is no use in feeling guilty for something you did not do. I learned that lesson a while ago. The fact that you do feel guilty means that you're a good person. You might have made some bad decisions before, but now you have a second chance."
Harry had spoken those words so, so long ago. Back then, the man had been trying to ease his confusion and shame.
Harry was good. Harry was great. Tom now understood why the Daily Prophet was so suspicious: How could the hero forgive him so easily? He was Voldemort. He was the one who had caused the death of James and Lily Potter, Sirius Black, Dumbledore, and countless innocents... He had brought heartache and he had brought pain.
"How many times have I said that you and Voldemort are not the same? You are not the same! Get that through your head."
Those words floated to the forefront of his mind, unbidden.
"All children deserve to be loved. All people deserve to have a second chance."
A hollow, pained sound escaped from his throat. It was a parody of laughter. The awful sound was still welling from his chest when he emerged out the Pensieve and back into the kitchen. Harry's features were drawn with worry—as if he feared that Tom had finally cracked.
Tentatively, the man asked, "Are you all right?"
Tom ignored the true questioned. "It's an odd experience, y'know? Following someone into a Pensieve while you're in a Pensieve. Kind of like watching someone on TV watching TV."
Harry bit his lip. "You're referring to the memories that Dumbledore showed me?"
"Wh—what did you think of them?" Hesitation colored the former Gryffindor's voice.
The boy dropped his gaze. "I don't want to talk about it."
"You aren't contemplating suicide or anything, right?"
The younger of the two let out a short, humorless laugh. "Tact—have you never been introduced to that concept?" Even Tom winced at how bitter he sounded. "Look, I might be crazy, but I'm not suicidal."
The corners of Harry's lips quirked into a small smile. "I would hope not."
Was Tom all right? No.
Would Tom let this destroy him? No. It wasn't pleasant watching what he had done—seeing the people he had hurt, murdered, broken—but with time, he would recover. If not for himself, for the people he cared about: Harry, Teddy, Andromeda... Teenage angst and self-pity weren't things they should have to put up with. They deserved better than that, he decided.
Tom had managed to avoid Howlers up until fourth year.
"YOU BLEW UP A TOILET."
Harry's unnaturally calm voice boomed through the Great Hall, causing heads to turn and people to stare. Mortified, the Ravenclaw attempted to melt into his bench.
Was there even such a thing as a calm Howler? Was that not an oxymoron?
It seemed that Harry's motto in life was 'Break the rules; do the unexpected'.
"GEORGE TOLD YOU TO BLOW UP A TOILET. GEORGE. THE SAME GEORGE WEASLEY WHO BROKE THE RECORD FOR ACHIEVING THE MOST NUMBER OF DETENTIONS IN ONE YEAR. THAT FACT ALONE SHOULD'VE WARNED YOU TO IGNORE HIS SUGGESTIONS. DO I REALLY NEED TO PAINT A SIGN ON HIS FOREHEAD THAT SAYS: DON'T LISTEN TO WHAT THIS GUY TELLS YOU. IT WILL GET YOU IN TROUBLE?"
Giggles had erupted amongst Hogwart's pupils. Some of the more devoted fangirls had even swooned because: "Ohmigawd! That's Harry Potter's voice! I can die happily now!"
"SO HOW SHOULD I PUNISH YOU FOR DOING SOMETHING SO RIDICULOUS? MAYBE I SHOULD DO SOMETHING EQUALLY RIDICULOUS—LIKE GIVING YOU THE TALK. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW."
Tom's eyes widened in pure, unadulterated horror. At the staff table, several of the teachers who had once known Harry Potter (Professor Longbottom, Headmistress McGonagall...) were trying to smother their laughter.
"THAT'S RIGHT, TOMMY BOY. THE TALK."
Snickering, Matt questioned, "He's not being serious, is he? I mean, The Talk. Right in the middle of breakfast? That's cruel."
"SO, WHEN A MAN AND WOMAN LOVE EACH OTHER VEEERY MUCH—"
Tom swore. Very loudly. With language that he hadn't even been aware of knowing. Still laughing, Matt clapped his hands over the ears of the nearest first year to 'protect the little kid's innocence'.
"He is serious! Someone kill me please!" Thinking quickly, Tom snatched up the Howler and took off at a run, racing down the Great Hall and out through the doors.
"—THEY DO SOMETHING VEEERY SPECIAL TOGETHER..."
"I don't like her." Tom kicked the football a bit harder than he normally would, but Harry was still able to stop it with his feet.
They were in a park. A rather ordinary park with grass and trees and playing children. Occasionally, Harry would catch sight of a teenage girl casting appreciative glances at Tom, and be reminded that his adopted son was at the age for relationships. And here he was—complaining about Harry's relationship with a girl. Shouldn't he be too self-centered and teenager-like to notice other people?
"Now, Tom—" he tried to say reasonably, propelling the ball across the grass and back to the fifteen-year-old.
"Don't Tom me. She's after you because of your fame and you know it."
"Nonsense! Thalia is a perfectly nice girl. And I'm twenty-seven now. It's about time I settled down..."
"You know, people used to say that Madame Zabini was a perfectly nice lady too," Tom said snidely. "If you overlooked the fact that she killed all her husbands."
"Are you insinuating that Thalia is going to try and kill me?" Harry asked, slightly outraged.
"There are other ways to ruin a person's life besides ending it."
"What are you? Jealous? Worried?"
"Jealous?" scoffed Tom. "I couldn't possibly be jealous of a gold-digger. Or, in this case, a fame-digger. But I am worried."
"Don't be. I'm fine."
The teenager snorted. "You willing to be on that?"
Indignant, Harry said, "I would win."
Tom arched one eyebrow. "All right. Loser has to pay the winner twenty gold galleons."
Exactly one week later, Harry James Potter found himself handing over twenty galleons to his ward.
"I told you so," Tom said smugly.
"You're so zen about this, it's freaking me out," Matt said as he flipped idly through his Arithmancy textbook.
"Zen?" Tom snorted. "I'm not freaking you out. The O.W.L's are freaking you out."
"Now you're psychic on top of everything else! What else are you about to reveal to me? That you were once a Dark Lord in a past life?"
The other Ravenclaw did not deign to respond.
Matt gasped dramatically, exaggerating shock, "No! Don't tell me you actually were a Dark Lord in a past life!" Leaning forward, the boy said in a loud, conspiratorial whisper, "Can I be in your inner circle?"
This was one of the many situations in which Tom experienced the impulse to smack his best friend, but decorum would not allow it. 'Well, decorum can go jump off a cliff,' he thought. He should be allowed to indulge himself once in a while.
Before Matt could register what he was doing, he reached over and shoved him off the couch.
"Ow!" The boy complained. "This is an abusive relationship! That's what this is! And you're a prefect—you're supposed to be—"
"Sugar and spice and everything nice?" Tom looked amused.
Indignantly, the brunet said, "A good example."
"Yeah, but who's watching?"
Glancing around, Matt retorted, "Your fanclub is."
Tom's head whipped around, and he caught sight of a gaggle of first year girls sitting on the other side of the Ravenclaw common room. When they noticed his gaze, they quickly looked away, giggling and tittering amongst themselves.
Weakly, he said, "It's not really a fanclub. It's just a couple of first years."
"Yes, a couple of first years. And a few second years. And a bunch of third years. And a whole load of—"
"You're exaggerating," Tom protested half-heartedly.
His friend raised an eyebrow, clearly unconvinced. "Whatever you say, Lordship. Whatever you say."
Hopping on Tom's bed seemed to be a favorite pastime of Teddy.
"Oh, I'm so excited!" sang the eleven-year-old. "I'm going to Hogwarts! Hoggy, warty Hogwarts!"
Personally, Tom thought that those particular adjectives made the school of magic seem less appealing. He did not voice his thoughts aloud, though.
Teddy continued in the same manner as he had been for the past hour. "I can't wait! I can't wait! D'you know how excited I am, Tommy?" He didn't wait for a reply. "Really, really excited!"
Fighting the urge to massage his temples, the soon-to-be sixth year said wearily, "Yes, I know. But September 1st won't arrive any sooner if you don't go get some sleep."
"Oh, fine," acquiesced Teddy.
Affectionately, Tom ruffled the boy's shockingly violet hair and showed him out of his room. But instead of retiring to bed, he made his way down the hall and into Harry's office.
Harry preferred laptops to charmed quills. Whenever he had the urge to write (or whenever his publisher urged him to write), he would retreat to his room for hours on end, typing away at his latest project.
And that was how Tom found him on that humid evening before September 1st—tapping away at the keyboard of his computer. With his sleeves rolled up, he looked the perfect picture of concentration. For a moment, Tom felt bad about disturbing him. He briefly considered turning around and walking out of his surrogate brother's office, but then Harry noticed him and spoke:
"Hey, Tom. Did you need something?"
The man raised an eyebrow as if to say, 'Well, get on with it.'
Releasing a deep breath, Tom dragged a chair to Harry's desk and flopped into it. "How did you know? That you wanted to be a writer, I mean?"
"Well." Harry blinked. "I didn't. When I was a fifth year, I thought I wanted to be an Auror."
"But you aren't an Auror."
"That's right. I grew...disenchanted, I suppose. I've had enough of fighting to last me a lifetime..." Harry shot an inquisitive frown in Tom's direction. "But may I ask what the point of this interrogation is?"
Tom shrugged. "I was talking with Teddy earlier. He wants to be a Quidditch player, did you know? He has his whole life planned out, and he's only eleven. And then there's me. I have no idea what I want to do in the future."
The teenager squirmed as his adopted father studied him. "I don't think that's true."
"Are you saying that I'm lying?" scowled Tom.
"No, that's not what I mean. I think that you do have an idea—you just don't wish to pursue it for some reason or another."
"Well...I guess a career as a Healer would be okay," the Ravenclaw allowed.
"Okay?" asked Harry. "Only okay?"
Toying with the hem of his shirt, Tom said slowly, "I...kind of want to teach, but I know that won't be happening—considering my past."
At first, Harry looked surprised, but then his features rearranged themselves into a reassuring grin. "If there's a will, there's a way, Tom. If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything."
"Psh. Go get yourself some original material."
Contrary to his negative words, Tom was smiling.
"So will you try?" Harry looked at him expectantly.
"I'll try," the boy confirmed.
Parents. Teachers. Students. Press. They were all resided within Hogwart's Great Hall, and they were all waiting for him, the Head Boy, to speak. The Head Girl, Sasha Ivanov, had already delivered the standard graduation speech about the good times they've shared, the gratitude they felt toward their parents and teachers, and the bright future that lay ahead of them. It was now time for Tom to conclude the ceremony.
Harry, Andromeda, and Teddy sat in the back row, feebly attempting to hide from reporters. The young Metamorphagus was excitement personified, bouncing with eager anticipation. His two guardian figures were expressing their encouragement through their smiles.
'You'll do fine,' they seemed to say.
Tom cleared his throat. "I am sure that my past is not lost on anyone—" he waved his wand in the air, causing Tom Marvolo Riddle to appear, and then rearrange itself into I am Lord Voldemort, "—but the 'I am' portion needs to be removed, since it would make a statement that is most definitely not true."
Again, he flourished his wand. The words in midair died in a shower of sparks. Scanning his audience, he was aware that they were all giving him their undivided attention. 'Of course they would be interested,' he thought wryly. 'This is the first time I've spoken about my past in public.'
"Now, Voldemort—" a ripple of unease traveled through the crowd and many shifted and stirred, "—the name still gives people the chills, huh? It brings back unwanted memories of pointless bloodshed and needless violence. Many people in this very room are victims, or know victims, who had suffered in the last war. Even a decade later, the scars and pain have yet to fade completely."
For a brief moment, he felt his throat constrict. "Yes, the last war was bad. But without it, we wouldn't have learned some very valuable lessons. It taught us that we should all try to be more understanding, open-minded, caring, and vigilant. It taught us that ignoring a problem doesn't make it disappear, that discrimination leads to hatred, and that bravery goes a long way. Now, just because I said that, all of you Gryffindorks—" Tom released an exaggerated, hacking cough, "sorry, Gryffindors better not think that you're better than the rest of us."
There was laughter and grins all around.
Tom indulged in a smile before continuing, "All of these lessons can be carried onto the battlefield that is called life. Of course, they aren't the only teachings that we'll need. Our education at Hogwarts may be complete, but there is still much more for us to discover in the 'real world'." The Head Boy paused and took in the sight of the gathering. "I wish you all the best of luck."
Applause and cheers erupted.
At the reception afterwards, Tom caught sight of a figure struggling his way through the crowd of people who had come to congratulate him.
It was Harry.
Their eyes locked, and there was a moment of silence.
In a voice saturated with pride and happiness and intense, indescribable sentiments, the man spoke, "Adopting you was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I cannot express how proud I am of you."
The former Dark Lord felt an emotion whelm his heart—a warm, consuming sensation. The emotion may have been completely foreign to Voldemort, but it was very familiar to Tom.
The emotion was love.
The fantabulous imadoodlenoodle beta'd and brit-picked. Many thanks to her and the reviewers.