Dear Reader, I want to thank all of you, so much, for your tremendous support. I'm not sure I would have made it through this without having your comments and encouragement as my constant guidance. I'm going to carry on writing for the rest of my life - if you want to hear about it, follow my blog, check out of other fanfiction! Although this is the end of TVoV & although that upsets me, I understand it isn't really the end. This is the beginning in many strange ways. x
81 - ∞
The task ahead of him was going to be laborious, but Harry wasn't scared. Once he left Hogwarts Castle, once he fled England for good, a tremendous wave of relief greeted him and would follow him for perhaps the remainder of his life. The moment had come, finally, for him to find peace. He moved with Nagini at his side and Fawkes on his shoulder to a household he had bought in an unnameable country. The residence had been obtained with minimal effort, putting good use to the seemingly endless fortune he had gained in his years of Dragon-training, treasure-hunting, and pulling off heists alongside Tom and the Death Eaters before the first Wizarding War.
Once he was safe in his new home, Harry set to brewing the potion that would create Tom Riddle a new body. He had taken the ingredients along with him: bone of the father, flesh of the servant, blood of the enemy. The task was uncommonly easy, as if after all that he had been through, all that he had faced, fate rewarded him gently with ease. The last ingredient to go into the potion was, of course, Nagini herself. She held Lord Voldemort's core shard of soul in her, as well as the shard bound to her body as a Horcrux. Voldemort had realised, in his later years, how convenient it was to keep a living Horcrux alive for this very purpose. Nagini would ensure he didn't have to wander between life and death. She cut out the need to summon a soul into an infantile body.
When Harry levitated Nagini's sphere above the cauldron, preparing to break the cage around her, he understood the significance of this moment. Inside her mind, Lord Voldemort was growing ever more conscious. The moment he gave Tom back a body, the moment he replenished his health and gave him the tools of life again, he would have to face the reality of a task he had only dreamt about until this point. Yet Harry smiled in trust. He broke the cage around Nagini, watching her coiling body wither and plunge into the depths of the potion. Tom Riddle would rise once more.
At first, his body was weak. It may have been due to his broken Horcruxes, or the affect of having been killed so violently, but Harry wasn't frightened. He lay Tom in a bed eventually and spent his time concocting a potion to replenish him. He would use the elixir that Nott had created. Phoenix tears, amongst little else, would be a far better cure than Nagini's venom, which had warped Voldemort's mind these last few years. It was symbolic, thought Harry. By feeding Tom light magic, by regenerating him with it, he stood a greater chance at redemption. Love is what Tom needed. Now that their Ouroboros-like cycle was complete, they could obtain it.
In the low light of a bedroom, Tom Riddle was gaining his strength. Although he was still stuck in a deep sleep, Harry waited with patience by his side, hardly ever leaving, lest he should miss the moment of his awakening. Having obtained a body through a well-made potion, Tom took the form of a ghostly shadow of his father, with the same dark hair, hollowed cheeks, long fingers and shadowed brow as he always had. Harry thought about the wars, watching his face for a long time. Soon, the elixir would do its work. He was already beginning to stir.
Harry witnessed it when Tom awoke. Shining the same red and gold as Harry's, Tom's eyes slid open and locked their attention to the ceiling, as if memories of the afterlife haunted him as they had haunted Harry. It was a subtle sign of success, a reason for rejoice, and Harry's heart ached in exultation. He had his chance to be with Tom forever.
As if startled by such strong emotion, Tom Riddle turned his head and spotted Harry. Fear clouded his expression. He recoiled, as if struck by fire, and heaved himself from the bed with incredible strength. Harry wasn't discouraged. He remained where he was seated, watching Tom back away to the far side of the room like a child.
"Stay away from me!"
He spoke in a hiss, as if Nagini's aid in bringing him life rendered him only fluent in Parseltongue. Harry remained seated. He tried to comfort him.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Tom."
He didn't believe it, not for an instant. His attention darted away from Harry only to look for useful aspects of his environment: a door, a weapon, an escape. Anything.
"Do you see Nagini?"
At the question, Tom's eyes flickered to the sphere and back.
"She is still your Horcrux," said Harry. "You remain immortal. I didn't bring you back from the the realm of life and death just to kill you, Tom."
His teeth bared in incredulity, his eyes in a wild panic.
"Why should I believe you?" he spat.
Harry only smiled softly. "If I wanted to kill you, I would have done it years ago. I've known about the future for a very long time."
"Then why did you not do it?" Tom demanded. "Why haven't you killed me?"
"Because the war is over. I've taken down your Death Eaters, I've destroyed your legion."
The words hit Tom like daggers, visibly. He shook his head, unwilling to consider the possibility, in denial at these turns of events.
"There's nothing left to fight against," Harry carried on carefully. "There's no one left to kill, no one to blame, Tom. The only thing that remains of the war is you and I, kept in this room."
"The Prophecy swore us to be enemies!"
He spoke the words with forceful intention, as if hoping it might create them into a spell to initiate a fight. Harry didn't allow it. He watched Tom carefully, feeling unusually calm, assured by the fact that he had an eternity to explain everything.
"Yes," he agreed calmly, "the Prophecy needed us to be enemies, Tom. It needed us to separate for years, because you destroyed my life and I destroyed yours. It was always our fate to turn against each other before the end of the war, because if you were fine with my betrayal, you never would have betrayed me. If I was fine with your betrayal, I never would have betrayed you."
"What lies are these?" demanded Tom. "What mistaken view have you been fed?"
"I'm not mistaken."
Tom wasn't convinced. He grew angry, impatient, frustrated by Harry's calm demeanour. Nothing but the instinct to fight and run played on his mind. Harry did his best to not disturb it.
"We are enemies!" Tom spat, his face contorted in ire. "The Prophecy foretold it!"
"The Prophecy foretold that you and I would be equals, that I alone would have the power to vanquish you. It foretold that we could only die at the hand of the other."
Tom shook his head, keeping his back close to the far wall, his eyes locked to Harry's.
"We've met the Prophecy's demands," said Harry gently. "It demanded that I defeat you, that I overthrow Lord Voldemort. It looks a bit like I succeeded, doesn't it? Now that it's over, now that you killed my younger self, sending me back in time only to fall in love with you, we've completed everything the Prophecy demanded. We're outside of it's control now, Tom. We're equals."
Anger fired up in Tom at once. With a twisted, furious expression, he spoke scathingly.
"You have destroyed everything that I worked for. You have taken away everything that mattered to me, leaving me with nothing! Nothing left to show for my work!"
"So did you."
The words held powerful truth. Through his anger, through his fury, a flicker of comprehension crossed Tom's face. They were in perfect balance. Tom was experiencing precisely what the younger Harry Potter would have faced fifty years ago now. Loss at the failure of his hard work. Pain at the scourging touch by fate's cruelty. Anger at being overthrown by a force that was far out of his control. Tom's empire had fallen, his Death Eaters were gone, his hard-work, created in delirium, had crumbled to pieces. All of the work he had pledged his existence to in hope of destroying Harry Potter and eliminating love had failed.
Tom spoke again. This time, he wasn't so furious. His own voice was cold and lower, too heavy for him to pick up. It shook in hysteria, letting Harry know how he felt. "You betrayed me."
That's what this boiled down to. Harry had betrayed Tom by not telling him the truth, just like Tom betrayed him by turning against him, trying all these years to eliminate love. It was a difficult matter to explain, especially to a man so broken, so crazed, but Harry had patience. He thought for a long moment, trying to find the right words.
"I had to," he said. "The Prophecy was out of my control. I knew that if I told you who I was, if I let you know how we were bound to this horrid fate, you would leave me. You would turn against me."
"This stopped you?" asked Tom in disbelief. "Why did this stop you?"
Harry's words were gentle. "Because I fell in love with you."
His eyes reverted to slits. "Don't you dare –!"
"It was our fate," Harry interrupted, speaking with easy tranquillity. "I was always meant to fall in love with you. It's what caused you to break, Tom. It caused you to try and kill me as a child, which marked me as your equal, which ensured that I would always go back in time. We're soul mates. A part of your soul is bound to mine and has been there a very long time."
"Haven't you ever wondered why during my childhood, we shared that connection?"
Panic found Tom, wrapped in anger. He couldn't find the words, couldn't speak.
"Don't you wonder why I posses the ability to speak Parseltongue?" Harry carried on. "That was only because of you, Tom. A piece your soul lives within mine."
It seemed too much for him to bear. Conflicted between the way he felt and the knowledge that what Harry said made sense, Tom withered where he stood. He was lost for words, struggling, his face contorted in torment.
"I had no intention of killing you when we were young, but I couldn't tell you the truth either," explained Harry quietly, hoping to get through to him. "That's where my betrayal came into this. In order to live alongside you, I had to refrain from letting you know about the future. I did that by doing what I do best – living in the grey."
Tom kept on shaking his head, as if trying to brush off the thoughts as they came. This was the answer to the pain that had haunted him since their violent separation and it made sense. There was nothing quite as strong, quite as sharp, as the relief of gentle truth. It destroyed him.
"All I ask tonight, Tom," said Harry steadily, knowing he was close to understanding, "is that you step down as Lord Voldemort and return to me, return to how things once were..."
There was pain in his large, frightened eyes. He wanted to be angry – Harry could see that. Tom wanted this to end in a way that would stop the emotions he felt, so he could rise as the Dark Lord again, because he thought that would bring him happiness. Harry stood up slowly, hands by his sides passively, his gentle expression focused. Although Tom didn't cower away so much now, Harry knew he had to approach him with caution.
"I gave up everything I had," he said, "not only for you, but because I recognised at a young age the injustice war brought. I didn't believe in Dumbledore. I didn't believe in you. To complete my side of the Prophecy, I gave up war without giving up who I was."
"Yet this is who I am," hissed Tom, whose voice shook. "This was is what I was born for!"
Harry was at a close distance now. Tom's eyes flickered between his, his breath heavy in anguish. He was refusing to let go of this last hope that they could be enemies. Hatred was so much easier to perpetuate than the pain of compassion.
"War is what you were raised into," said Harry quietly. "You have an incredible mind, Tom, and more talent than any witch or wizard I've ever seen, living or dead. You put your skills to the wrong use, because your childhood influenced you to take the wrong path."
At this, Tom's expression grew wilder. "What would you know of my childhood?"
"We were both affected. We both made terrible decisions because of the horrors we had faced in war."
Word by word, he was weakening. Harry was peeling away the resistance in Tom, until his fury faltered enough to show his true feelings. He was being ripped of all of his defences, his reasons for turning toward such tremendous mistakes. Harry was freeing them both of delusions, confusion, and fate. He had taken away Tom's army, had started a group of Grey Sorcerers who would demolish any attempt to restarting the war. For as long as Harry lived, Lord Voldemort would not rise again – and Harry would always live for as long as Tom.
"I know you can't have forgotten what we went through," said Harry firmly. "I know you can't have forgotten the purity of the love we shared. It's still here. We don't have to fight."
Tom didn't back away this time, but watched him, mesmerized. He could no longer find the will to avoid his pain. Harry reached out a hand. Tom didn't move away, even when his fingertips brushed his soft skin. Harry waited to see his reaction to affection, hardly daring to believe he could get through to him at all.
"It's alright now," he said, staring softly into those terrified crimson eyes. "The war is over."
Tom leant into his affection, but at the price of great torment. Harry stepped closer, holding his face in both hands, until Tom was gazing up at him. The closer they became, the more hurt Tom showed himself to be. Harry watched a thousand emotions flicker across his face. Denial, hope, anguish, pain, desire, love, relief... His eyebrows furrowed, lids closed, his breathing deep.
A moment later, they embraced. Harry felt Tom's thin weight against his shoulder, felt comfortable in the way his familiar arms wrapped around him. Memories came flooding back to him on the decades they had spent in each others arms, in the quiet hours between raging wars. This was all that mattered. This quiet compassion, this ruthless love, was all they had ever wanted.
Only, Tom kept flinching. Every few moments, his composure broke and he jolted, torn by some inner conflict. Harry stopped hugging him and took a step back. Barely daring to believe it, he took a long look at Tom's face, which was twisted in desolation. When his eyes slid open and he gazed at Harry, tears were flooding over his crimson irises, falling down his face. Harry could feel him beginning to shake violently under the gentle grasp of his hands. Broken, weakened, unwilling to comprehend it, Tom spoke to him.
"I feel remorse..."
In that moment, Harry understood why Nott had expressed such joy at his own descent into redemption. Something about seeing the tears in Tom's eyes, witnessing proof of his feelings, encouraged hope in Harry that it was going to be alright.
"Don't worry," he said breathlessly, smiling. "This had to happen."
His visible happiness only struck terror in Tom, who in that instant began to cower away.
"I cannot be around you," he whispered desperately, accusingly. "I cannot stay around you without feeling remorse! I cannot stand alongside you!"
He was working himself into a panic, but far from this causing him to find strength and stop his remorse, Tom grew ever-worse. His thoughts grew harsher, realisation quick up on him. He was more vulnerable in this instant than Harry had ever seen him before. It was if his skin were being peeled away and all that remained underneath was a fragile, shivering creature with no way out.
"I – I don't want to die..."
His voice was trembling. It terrified Harry. For a moment, he worried that Tom wouldn't make it through the process of salvation. Tom drew breath in great heaves, breaking down under the terror of reality. Trembling, shaking, his voice weak.
"I don't want to die," Tom gasped desperately, staring up at him as if pleading for it to be any other way. "I don't want to die!"
Harry held Tom more closely, supporting his falling weight. He hadn't expected all of this to happen so quickly. He had no idea that his very presence, his touch, would break Tom because of what he had learnt. In order to be together, they not only had to be equals, but they had to face redemption. It was meant to happen. Holding onto the idea, Harry found his strength.
"You're not going to die," he assured Tom comfortably, smiling warmly. "Even if your Horcrux breaks tonight, as it clearly wants to, there are better ways to obtain immortality."
Tom must have known there were high risks with racing redemption. Clutching onto Harry, he was terrified of losing him in this instant, when they had finally come together again.
"We have a lot of work to do," Harry carried on shakily, hoping to remind him of a reason to live, "and a lot of pain to make up for. Whether it takes forty years or four hundred, what I do know, Tom, is this isn't the end for us."
He looked barely convinced. There was no telling what the next few hours would feel like, no matter how much he wanted to believe in Harry's words. Terrified, Tom spoke what was on his mind. His expression was pained.
"What Hell is this?" he whispered.
Harry smiled for the first time, overwhelmed. "To me, this feels like Heaven."
Tom didn't understand why – he couldn't see it. Harry carried on speaking tenderly, fond of the ideas that struck him, euphoric that they were alone again.
"We have a whole life ahead of us," he said in a low voice. "We can explore the art of magic together, forgetting about wars, forgetting about the Prophecy. When these bodies grow old, Tom, we'll replace them with new ones. We can seek better immortality, build up our own lives, find peace, have children. Life will go on and keep going on for as long as we desire..."
The words submerged Tom in hope, but worsened the intensity of his dismay. Hearing Harry's hopes for the future, a brighter future, heightened his fear of death. However, he didn't express these feelings. Instead, another painful thought took hold of him.
"You still wish to have all of that alongside me?"
Harry only beamed. "More than anything."
It delighted Tom for just a moment. Still shaking, he let his fears be known.
"If I die tonight, all of it was in vain..."
Harry couldn't agree. He knew Tom would understand eventually. With compassion, with love, he spoke the honest truth.
"Even if I only have a day to spend with you, even if we live together for a thousand years, Tom, all I care about is enjoying this moment in peace with you..."