A/N: A deep thank you to all those who have wasted a few moments of their time to leave a review. Reviews are more important than most people realise. Since we fanfiction writers have no financial or otherwise profit from writing, interaction with readers is the only reward we get. Please, do keep that in mind. It's our biggest source of inspiration and motivation.
About genealogy: Someone pointed out that since both Harry and Tom are related to the Peverells, that must mean that Harry is related to Slytherin, as well. That's completely untrue, and a logical fallacy. My maternal cousin and I are both related to my mother, but my cousin in definitely not related to my father. Unless we're from some really shady mid-west American town. Rowling has made it beyond clear (in interviews, too) that Tom Riddle is truly the last descendant of Salazar Slytherin, and I wish to stick to canon concerning this particular issue.
About chess: A couple of people were slightly upset over my having made errors in writing out the chess game I had in mind, a few chapters back. Thank you for pointing them out to me; I have actually re-written that whole part, and checked multiple times to ensure the game is accurate. I also added the missing moves until checkmate, because even though chess games generally stop when both players realise how the game is going to end, some people demanded it, and my readers are my priority.
To all the people who hesitantly send me notes, asking to be my friend, don't be shy. Anyone who wants to contact me for any reason, including just because, is more than welcome to.
I really am open to and grateful for all kinds of communication, fun and feedback.
Warnings: Violence, slash, and *gasp* lots of useless trivia about Rome.
The fact that, as an underage wizard, I have almost no opportunities to travel to other countries, has been and still is one of the most important reasons that I am terribly impatient as far as reaching my age of majority is concerned. It is one thing to devote oneself to academic studying, exploring long-lost secrets of magic through dusty tomes and weathered parchments, and it is truly quite another to be able to walk through the very majestic pyramids in which event-triggered curses were first invented, to explore the Grecian ruins where the most ancient Seers once unlocked the secrets of far-sight, or to wander the frozen landscapes where the Tibetan wizard-monks who first discovered the mechanics of the Animagus transformation have hidden their occult knowledge.
Rome, too, is one of those unique, fascinating places that vibrate with historical and magical significance, brimming with ancient ruins, extraordinary buildings, hidden sights and secrets, and thus, while I walk the picturesque stone pavement of its well-preserved, postcard-like city center, I feel a sense of quiet contentment occasionally decorated with pangs of exhilaration, and I take in the plethora of information surrounding me with deep satisfaction.
"Ah... This is the San Clemente church, is it not? I've read it was built above ruins from the third and fourth century BC. If we find the time, I would really not mind a visit," I state in my usual flat tone, which can accurately be described as fashionably disinterested, and I leisurely bring the admittedly magnificent gelato cone to my mouth.
"Well, we'll likely have very little spare time left, being still in the middle of the school term and all, my boy. And I was rather hoping for the mausoleum of Cecilia Metella, myself, I hear it's a fascinating place," Trouble-shore retorts, removing the traces of lemon gelato from his greying but still brightly auburn facial hair with a multicoloured handkerchief, and behind us Harry Potter sighs audibly, presumably thinking us incorrigible bookworms and knowledge aficionados.
"Mother of the famed Marcus Crassus, yes? They were rumoured to have been a wizarding family, if I recall some of my readings correctly," I say.
"Ah, yes, my boy. They most certainly were. For all that she did not go down in Muggle history as an important figure, despite the magnificent tomb erected in her memory, I have reason to believe Cecilia Metella was a witch out of the ordinary. I suspect her final resting place must still hold fascinating secrets," the slightly insane but also extremely intelligent Transfigurations' Master confides in me conspiratorially, and his sky-blue gaze is glittering in its usual secretive, perturbing manner that never fails to render me deeply uneasy. "In fact, it is always a sign of a smart witch, to have brushed thusly with Muggle politics, but to have carefully avoided the spotlight, or to attract too much attention."
"I see. That sounds quite intriguing," I consent, pondering upon the possible nature of the magical secrets Wobble-boar could be referring to and, naturally, feeling my interest piqued; someone who can skillfully meddle in politics and still keep a façade of innocence is clearly someone I'd be curious about.
"Am I the only one here who is less concerned with our historical heritage and the local delicacies, and more concerned with Myrmydon's resting place and the bloody Hallows? I know neither of you have truly experienced Voldemort, but for the love of Merlin's Staff, we are racing against time here," Harry Potter exclaims, interrupting us with obvious exasperation, his growing irritation causing the nerves placed against his jaw to flutter visibly. He is, of course, absolutely right, and I inwardly berate myself for losing focus for a moment, and for exhibiting upon my character the influence of the insufferable lord of lemon-drops, foolishness and non-sequiturs walking beside us.
About an hour and a lot of walking later, we are near the Cesano cemetery, and the time-traveler taps a peculiar-looking marble angel thrice with his wand, causing it to retract its wings and unveil the entrance to the wizarding wing of said cemetery. I would be tempted to call the site beautiful, but I feel that perhaps it's not a fitting word for an amalgam of eerie statues, old resting places, crumbling pagan symbols and aggressive growths of dark ivy.
Walking amongst half-wilted roses and tombs with fading lettering engraved upon them, I feel the slightest pang of apprehension, for even the air feels different in this place, cooler, crueler and far more still. Looking for Myrmydon's grave, we almost instinctively split, with Dangle-more taking the left and Potter, whom I opt to follow, the right, and for a while we examine the area, in perfect silence and with meticulous care, brushing layers of dust off cracked tombstones and parting vines to reveal pompous names of old wizarding families and, on occasion, tacky portraits of the dear departed.
"Are we sure he was buried here?" Harry Potter eventually asks, after the first fifteen minutes of our quest prove less than fruitful.
"As sure as we could possibly be. I cross-referenced extensively, as I have explained before," I reply tonelessly, but nonetheless not quite managing to suppress a sting of annoyance at the suggestion that I could have erroneously interpreted or processed information, even though I am well aware that the time-traveler did not mean to personally offend me. At the corner of my field of vision, I see him roll his eyes at my irritability, but his rugged face holds a rather fond smile and he does not seem bothered by my occasional overreactions.
"Over here! I think this very well might be it," Stubble-Snore then declares cheerfully, interrupting our meaningful glares, and I swiftly turn my head to find the fiery-haired coot leaning over a grave in the far left corner of this elegantly macabre place, pulling weeds apart to uncover some aging headstone. Potter rushes to the Transfigurations' Master's side, relief and eagerness not so very subtly glowing on his face, and I follow, perhaps not as enthusiastically, but most certainly with great interest, until all three of us are standing above the discovery of a certain engraving spelling out:
1216 - 1291
Requiescat in Pace
...and then letting our faces fall abruptly upon the viciously disquieting discovery that this particular grave has actually already been broken into, and that we are, evidently, much too late.
Well, this bodes ill, I think to myself coldly, and lift my gaze from the desecrated grave to meet Potter's own, only to find his naturally grass-coloured, lively, kind eyes now dark and thick with memory, too obviously haunted with ire, fear, and the merciless familiarity of upcoming war.
"Gellert was here," the copper-headed wizard finally shatters the ominous, uncomfortable soundlessness, his jaw visibly tense behind his rich facial hair and his expression one of unhidden disquiet and uncertainty. "I recognise his magical signature. He tried to be discreet, but..." He suddenly turns to the time-traveler, and the usually unnaturally piercing, bright sky stare seems stormy and thoughtful, his slightly disturbed but, admittedly and to my disgruntled admiration, brilliant mind obviously in overdrive. "You still believe, Harry, dear boy, that he is on our side?"
"Don't you? Well, I guess only time will tell," Harry Potter replies in a tone that sounds inappropriately casual, as well subtly albeit deeply weary, and after a few moments of initial stiffness, his body language now reacquires its natural fluidity, insouciance and devil-may-care sway, as if the desecrated grave and the new incertitude on Lord Grindelwald's loyalties are nothing but an expectable as well as minor setback. I am tempted to suspect he may know something I don't; and yet I suppose I should not assume, for I should not forget that this is a man who's been thrust into a torrent of war, backstabbing, espionage, unrest and violence from a very young age, and that, perhaps, he truly is right within his element in situations like these, and appears so oddly relaxed for no better reason than that.
"Hm. I suppose there is little else for us to do here. If we have two Hallows, and Voldemort has another two, he will inevitably confront us at some point, and the most we can do is attempt to make it happen under our conditions rather than his," I helpfully contribute, feeling the green man's odd and rather inexplicable serenity spread to me like an infectious viral disease, and suiting my natural nonchalance like a glove. "Also, I think the church of San Nicola di Bari is very close to here, right in the Municipio XX. Eleventh century, said to have secretly hosted a coven of pureblood witches at some point. Could be interesting," I then add, as lightly and conversationally as possible, experiencing a simultaneous eerie light-headedness and a stark, cold, rational clarity whispering into my mind so this is how the board is set; and now we'll all play to the best of our abilities, and who shall, shall win.
The Chiesa di San Nicola di Bari doesn't look like much; certainly much simpler and less flashy than the one holding the same name in Southern Italy. Hermione and I had gone there, once, looking for some clues on the location of a middle Christian era artifact that may or may not have been used to temporarily suppress accidental magic in infants or something. I don't even remember why we wanted it.
Anyway, this church is a small, tired, light beige rectangle with small, shifty-looking windows, and frankly, I can't say I'm impressed with the view. So I am surprised to find that there is indeed a secret passage behind the weather-worn picture of that suspicious Madonna with her strangely calm bambino. Dumbledore and Riddle are both perfectly collected and dignified, treating the discovery with an outward appearance of mild, amused interest. For one who knows them as well as I do, though, it's obvious they're both rather agitated. I can't help but smile affectionately at how the two of them are, in a way, beginning to accidentally get along.
How domestic. Huzzah.
"Tom, my dear boy, I think you should give this grimoire to me. I promise you once I translate the twelfth century Latin transfiguration terminology, which I know you are not exactly fluent with, I will give you a copy," Albus is suggesting some hours later, as we come out of some catacomb and into a nearby garden, his tone fatherly but a slight bit minacious. Riddle, insouciant and porcelain-faced, throws an unimpressed glare his way. Then he hugs said grimoire closer to his chest, a weird mixture of a petulant child and a blasé Dorian Gray.
"If I want to learn Latin transfiguration terminology, I shall do so, and will have to spend at most two evenings, sir. So I believe that, since this particular stop in our sight-seeing was my idea, I have the right to reap the benefits and turn down your kind assistance," the young Slytherin responds, a victorious smirk too small to be seen by anyone who wouldn't know to look for it twitching on his rosy lips. Smug little bastard.
"Well, when you find yourself lost in the subtle differences between the abeo, novo, mutatio and vicissitudo spell groups, you know where my office is," says Albus, politely but patronizingly, and behind his gentle, sweet smile glows indignation that he does not even bother trying to hide. No wonder I turned out a little strange, with him as a mentor and father-figure.
Of course, Tom Riddle interprets the statement as a challenge issued maliciously towards him, and he narrows his beautiful, clear eyes derisively, his entire face oozing a silent "as if".
And then, a young man, quite obviously a wizard, pops up from behind a bush, and start running towards us rather awkwardly.
Immediately, I find myself stepping in front of Riddle and Dumbledore protectively, swiftly casting a non-verbal and wandless shielding spell or two, my eyes measuring distances and counting exit points. Behind me, I also catch the sound of the young Slytherin unholstering his wand without a moment's tarrying, and the whistling of the many layers of Albus' grandiose robes as he, too, assumes a battle-ready position. The young man, however, his face flushed and his oily brown hair disheveled, does not seem the slightest bit threatening, and if it were not for the paranoia my long years in the battlefield have groomed, I would likely be inclined to drop my martial pose.
"I'm a friend, please! I have a message. Someone told me you'd be here. He told me he has what you came looking for," the man declares in rather horribly pronounced English, freezing a few feet before us and resting his hands on his knees to seemingly catch his breath. He indeed does seem harmless enough, panting, somewhat chubby, and red-faced, but then again, so did Quirrel, and Pettigrew, and a slew of other treacherous worms; pathetic does not necessarily cross off dangerous.
"Who sends you?" Dumbledore speaks, his cheerful, quirky persona completely evaporated, and leaving behind an intimidating, confident wizard whose firm voice plainly suggests his tolerance for nonsense is quite low.
"The Dreamer sends me. He's part of the Society of Those who See. He saw your coming here. He said you need not worry. That the others who came, they, too found the nothingness you found. That he made sure to secure the item beforehand. He's seen it. He said he supports the snake, and that he has actually offered his allegiance before."
The Dreamer? Bloody hell! Complications upon flippin' complications! What the hell is that now?
Likely a ploy by Voldemort.
"The Dreamer...? Supports me? Ah... Long blond hair, vacant cerulean eyes, soft, floating voice?" Tom Riddle asks, tone sharp and eyes sharper still, and he steps forward, fingers still tightly clasped around his wand, but his graceful face holding interest now, rather than aggressive wariness. I have no idea what he is talking about, but Albus seems to, because his lips curve upwards into a strongly satisfied smile and his gaze twinkles in that typical, unsettling way that implies the pieces are falling together inside his cunning head.
"Yes. He did say you have been acquainted. Well, anyway, he told me you should leave this place and meet him back at..."
The plump man falls over, immediately dead, and after the flat thud of his lifeless body, many things happen at once.
A group of a dozen of battle-wizards appears from behind a couple of trees. They seem to have specific orders, and are dressed in dark blue, bearing Italian fascist symbols, while one of them is still holding his wand in the Killing Curse position. Behind me, Tom Riddle hisses a Protego Maximalis, surprising me considerably by choosing to start off with a defensive incantation. It's generally not his style. Dumbledore, who immediately notices that both Tom and I have area-of-effect shields in place, taking account my still-standing earlier spell, whips out of a few Expelliarmus' that successfully send a couple of our attackers flying back. For a fraction of a second I stand there, a little unsure, my hand floating before my body.
Having spent so many long, ugly years in the battlefields, I eventually had to accept that wars kill people, and lose my scruples over the use of lethal force; it was us or them. However, the situation is entirely different now, a different time, a different place, a different war, and Merlin knows it would not be wise to wet my hands with blood in front of Tom fricking Riddle, to give him a taste for murder or imply that it can, under certain circumstances, be an acceptable course of action.
I'm such a bloody hypocrite.
And so I bite back my Confrigos and my entrail-expelling curses, and instead distribute a batch of Incarcerous, a couple of which successfully find their targets and throw some of our assailers to the floor, bound with thick rope and screaming curses at me.
Our shielding holds for a while, but soon, as is always inevitable when a stable, strong flow of magic crashes against a defensive screen, a spell or two break through. Dumbledore has to individually deflect some kind of Slashing Hex, while I leap in to partially renew our defenses with a Salvio Hexia. I peek a little to my left as I do so, and, to my relief, find Tom in perfect control of the situation, lazily and fluidly avoiding anything that might have momentarily managed to bypass our fading shielding charms, and riposting gracefully with non-lethal incantations, mostly Impendimentas.
Albus and I, too, throw around a few Stunners and leglocking curses, and, despite our ridiculous numerical disadvantage, all seems to be going perfectly well, with none of us actually having to break as much as a sweat, until another six or seven wizards rush out into the clearing, dousing us with a new torrent of hexes and aggressive spellwork.
A Bombarda flies right past Dumbledore's left ear, and a tree behind us explodes quite majestically.
It is then that I feel a familiar tug at my magic, a knowing pull, and I turn my gaze towards the young Slytherin to find his own furious, clear blue eyes bearing into me demandingly, requesting access. Why not, I think to myself, well aware of the unusually large pool of magical power than I am fortunate enough to own, that such a brief battle could not possibly have any chance of depleting. And so I let him, and I feel the magic surge through the strange residual bond, that odd thread between us, and he practically glows with delight at the sensation, and looks divinely powerful.
"Protego Totalum Amplus Repercussio" he declares in a loud, thunderous, sinister tone. The words echo potently through the dark gardens as he raises his hands to weave a stunning, complex and surprisingly strong shielding charm, an almost impermeable reflective screen that throws our newest opponents completely off balance, and causes a few to stumble back, finding most of their spellwork cast right back at them. I feel a small smile creeping up my mouth at the sight. Some of the wizards from the previous batch of assailants are recovering from their temporarily neutralizing spells, however, and I bring the Ignis stone from my pocket right into my hand, releasing a few fairly innocuous whips of flame their way, to keep them as a safe distance.
Tom's masterful use of our signature blending bond and his area of effect shield have me slightly distracted with pride, knowing well that, even though every version of him, in every timeline, has always been an exceedingly strong wizard and a brilliant, resourceful duelist... Well, this levelheaded, graceful skill he has acquired at such a shockingly young age is, in large part, due to our training together. He really is a pleasure to watch. And exactly due to that very distraction, I at first do not notice the characteristic flick of the wrist, the quiver of the elbow, and the robed man grinning wickedly at me as he casts the most despised of spells. When did I become such a bloody amateur?
The Avada Kedavra, known to be not only one of the most viciously powerful military spells to ever be invented, but also famous for its finality, and the almost absolute impossibility of reflecting or absorbing it, bypasses the defensive charm. My heart pounding, I dive to the ground the very last moment, only narrowly ducking the green jet that was otherwise centered right onto my chest.
Thank bloody Merlin for my wartime experience and Quidditch honed reflexes, I think to myself, taking a deep breath as I scramble to regain my positioning.
"Stupefy" I hear Albus roar angrily, his voice hoarse and unkind, and even without lifting my eyes yet, I know that the wizard who'd cast the curse my way will soon fall over with a blunt thud, paralysed.
Then I feel the most profoundly unsettling, soul-crushing, gut-clenching, crippling coldness. A horrid sensation; a malicious, seething chill seeping into me through the bond, a frigid, serene killing intent, merciless and void. My pulse spiking worriedly, I lift my eyes to see Tom Riddle, beautiful, still, silent, and overflowing with the most intense, most brutally cruel anger. It is rolling off him in invisible waves of motionless, icy-cold fury. His perfect face is blank, but his eyes...
Oh, oh no.
He takes a few slow, deliberate steps towards our attackers, at least half of which are already in some way or another incapacitated, and they, too, must sense something disturbingly off about him, something more than simple violence, because they direct a whole bouquet of curses his way, panicked. He evades them all graciously, svelte and so perfectly composed.
"Adflictus" he mutters with a mocking light-heartedness than does not quite cover the sadistic pleasure he is finding. The terrible, unforgettable sound of human bones being crushed, one that forever haunts my war dreams, is accompanied by wails of pain and horror; but the boy does not bat a lash.
"Occulum Perforatus" Tom Riddle adds, matter-of-factly, as if simply making an observation, and near his feet an already rope-bound wizard screams in agony, blood spraying from brutal stabs into his eyes, before he collapses to a fetal position, quaking. Dumbledore, shaken by this expression of ruthless malignance, casts a simple non-verbal leglock towards the young sociopath. But Tom Riddle is on a roll, high on adrenaline, high on ire, high on power, and he deflects it with unnerving, mocking ease.
"Tom, don't!.. Enough!.." I begin, voice loud and firm. He ignores me completely.
The Italian wizards, or the few of them still able to fight, cast a new torrent of spells towards his menacing, approaching form. He evades them all once again, without even having to actively deflect a single one, nimble and focused. There is something really, deeply wrong about the sight of a boy like him, young and handsome, crushing grown men so comfortably. He is formidable, and he is absolutely horrific.
"Osseum Expulso" he growls with wild but subtle joy, and ankles, collarbones, jaws rip through nerve, muscle and skin, forced out of the bodies they belonged to amidst a symphony of howls and whimpers. Those who can still crawl away from the boy do so, and the rest twitch helplessly on the ground. A stray spray of blood finds the Slytherin on the face, crossing through his small, imperceptible almost, smirk, staining the horrifying symmetry and grace of his refined, marble beauty.
What the fuck Harry, do something!
I run towards the boy, and shout something his way, but he seems far still, and about to raise his wand again.
So then I do the only thing I can think of to restrain his destructive mania; I tap into the connection, drawing out as much magic as I can from him, as abruptly and roughly as I can, and I feel it flow into me, cool, angry and explosive, filling my chest and swirling furiously. Tom immediately stops dead on his tracks, and pales, as if punched in the gut, or as if someone just stole the air he had been breathing. Which, I suppose, must be what such a sudden, aggressively imposed magical exhaustion must feel like. I pull a little more, and he slowly falls on his knees, his breathing laboured from the artificial tiredness.
"Riddle..." I mumble awkwardly as I reach behind him, placing my hands on his shoulders. I am not sure whether it is his shoulders that are shaking a little, or my own hands. I count at least three or four dead, and as many gravely wounded. Blood stains the grass around us.
He just killed at least three people.
He just killed.
At least three people.
Even in his original timeline, he hadn't that much blood on his hand so... so soon.
I'm fucking up. I'm making things worse. Bloody hell.
I am not even sure what I am supposed to do or say. Comfort him, berate him, yell angrily? Slap him across the face? Hug him? Snap his wand? I momentarily let my gaze flick backwards, but Dumbledore is keeping a safe distance and I know he does not want to meddle in this particular battle.
He just murdered at least three human beings.
Holy goat of Ramses.
In the end, and to my ample surprise, it is the young student who breaks the silence. "You ducked the Avada by less than a inch, you know. It was quite the close call. You could have died. A matter of luck," he states, in an almost inappropriately factual, objective voice, as if that explains everything. I suppose, to him, it does; he really does not seem the slightest bit regretful. He probably feels his actions are completely justified. Truly, I don't believe that he is lying, implying that this absolutely loss of self-restraint was due to my close brush with death, and that suddenly forces me to confront a heap of questionable, conflicting feelings.
I am enraged, and disappointed, and frustrated, and horrified... and yet I'm also guiltily, and to my own violent disgust, a tiny, little bit flattered. He saw red because I was almost hurt. He would crush underfoot anyone who'd raise a wand against me. He cares. Ha cares for me. Merlin, I'm repulsed, and I despise murder, and I hate what he's done, and yet... I'm pleased that at least that means he is truly attached to me.
And that terrorizes me. How the flip am I suppose to teach the choice of morality to a fledgling Dark Lord when I, myself, am so deeply fucked up, and morally questionable?
These are human lives. Three people just died. At least three.
As if you haven't killed dozens... a vicious little voice observes, and it's true. But never out of anything but necessity! Never like this. I...
"Tom, listen to me. Don't do this, this indulgent, unnecessary violence, ever, ever, ever again. Never. Under no circumstances. Not to defend yourself, not for me, not ever. Never, ever use lethal force for pleasure or out of anger. Only use as much force as strictly necessary. Don't... don't ever do this. I'm angry with you. I'm very disappointed. I'm..."
"You and Albus could have taken them all down in seconds if you did not stick to bloody stunners and leglocks and disarming spells. You almost died because you refused to use lethal force."
"I dodged it. For hell's sake, I can handle myself! I've defeated a Voldemort with seventy something years of experience, I've lead entire battalions into battle against overwhelming odds. I could have managed them all by myself, believe me."
"Dodged it. By an inch, Harry! It was luck!"
"So said everyone year after year! Luck, luck, luck. And yet after countless wars I'm still here, very much alive, whole and strong, so no, Tom, it's not goddamn luck. I can handle myself. I have the reflexes, the spellwork, and I make the right choices! I win when all others lose. So you will listen to me, you little fiend. You will never, ever again use more force than is strictly necessary," I command with as much forceful finality as I can find in me, and I violently clasp his chin, bringing it inches from my own face, and our eyes lock savagely. "Or Hecate help me, I will kill you, Tom."
He breathes out slowly, and voicelessly stares back at me for a while.
"You could have died," he finally repeats, insistent, but in a much smaller voice, and he glares down at his own blood red hands. He does not look sorry, not close, but he does look uncertain, and slightly lost. I warp my arms around him and internally, I almost cry at how dysfunctional we both are.
I really, really need a glass of Firewhiskey.
Exactly thirty-three hours later, Tom and I are sitting quietly inside my private Hogwarts quarters; he on the armchair, me on the sofa. Between his pallid, long fingers lies the second Elder Wand, and yet, strangely, he does not look too excited to be holding the twin of the supposedly most powerful wand in the whole wide world. Perhaps yesterday he had not seemed the slightest bit regretful about the murders he so light-heartedly committed, but since our return to the castle he has been strangely silent and introspective. Especially after talking to the one referred to as The Dreamer in certain circles, a young man named Mithras Lovegood. I can't say I was that surprised to find out Luna had had a real Seer in her bloodline.
I have no idea what was said between them, and frankly, I dare not ask, because I know Tom well enough by now to know when he does not wish to speak. In these cases, pushing the matter will only make him defensive and frigid, which will in no way help.
"So, will you give it to me? I have the other two," I finally ask, sipping a gulp of spirit.
"Is it really the wisest choice to keep them all together? If Grindelwald or Voldemort try anything, we'll be making it substantially easier for them," he argues, but I can tell he is not really adamant about keeping the wand, which truly surprises me. Just a few days ago, his crystalline gaze lit up at the mention of powerful artifacts, especially anything that could in any way help him attain immortality. Is the strange change in his outward behaviour due to the recent bloodbath, or was it something the young Seer told him? I simply have no idea, and it is making me feel rather helpless and uncomfortable.
"If you want to keep one, for security reasons, fine. But I'd rather you don't keep an Elder Wand. I can give you the cloak, if you want," I suggest in turn, and, unexpectedly, he almost immediately nods his voiceless agreement. He is acting way out of character, and it's beginning to frighten me.
"Tom, are you alright?"
"I don't know. Things are going to get... intense quite soon, you know. And I am really not the slightest bit certain about... well, anything. I don't even trust myself. Here I'd made grand declarations about sincerely trying to change certain things about myself, and then..." His eyes flicker downwards, long, dark lashes casting shadows upon his gloriously smooth cheeks, and even though he does not seem to be experiencing any severe emotion of guilt, and I do believe his conscience is not yet ready to offer him something like that, he does seem genuinely uncomfortable with what happened back in Rome. "I mean, you were attacked; I did not just go off shooting virulent curses at randomly chosen strangers. But Mithras said there will be a cusp soon. A turning point. A 'road to Damascus', if you will. And I can feel it approaching."
Ah. That's it, then. He is actually frightened. That I can understand.
"Well, I still choose to trust you. After all, I did almost die, back there."
I hand him the cloak, and he gives me the Elder Wand. As our hands touch, I deliberately trail my fingers to caress his, and watch his nostrils flare the slightest bit. The look on his eyes when he lifts them to meet mine is not the kind of smug, assertive hunger I expect, however, but rather a strangely soft, haunted look. Just what did that Seer tell him? Still, he does tiptoe and reach out to kiss me, and this time I let him without any resistance, moral, physical, or otherwise, enjoying the sensation of his soft but cool lips against my own slightly chapped ones. His perfect hands roam my hair.
"Tom, are you actually alright?" I am sincerely quite concerned about how out of character he seems to be acting.
"I'm better now," he replies, and his cherubic face finally acquires the signature smirk, that small, arrogant, self-satisfied, audacious little curve that these days seems to provoke desire in me rather than unease, or resentment, or derision. Good. This is the sly, young, dissocial manipulator I know and, to my great misfortunate, seem irreversibly attached to on way too many levels.
"It will turn out alright, in the end. I'm pretty sure," I whisper into the dark curves of his lilac-sented hair, but he does not say anything. Instead, he shuts his eyes and gently pushes his entire person a little more against me.
Voldemort does not die. I have seen many futures, you know. There isn't just one. There are many. Some hazier, further away, more unlikely; some stark, almost certain. Like the fact you would end up looking for the second Elder Wand. That I knew. So I kept it safe for you. I truly support your struggle, you know. You could be a brilliant leader, one day, and we need one. One like you.
But let me not fool you. Not matter what you do, Voldemort does not die.
Voldemort will always be there.
That you cannot change.
Lovegood's cryptic words echo in my mind ominously for the thousandth time today, and, as I lie still, fully awake, and wide-eyed in my bed, my only comfort is the familiar, glossy softness of Nagini's serpentine body as she slithers up against my torso to sooth me.