Disclaimer: I am just an existentially confused, self-important insomniac who is entertaining the masses for free by pouring out thinly veiled personal terrors, fantasies and experiences, and manipulating the fictional creations of others until they are neck-deep in questionable and disturbing situations. I own nothing.

A/N I don't really know what to say. Thank you, all of you, for your reviews, your support, your feedback, your everything. That's all. Thank you. Please keep it up. I can use all the encouragement you could possibly spare.

No, seriously. Please, write a review. This is the only reward fanfiction authors ever get.

Warnings: The usual. I mean, by now you sort of know what you're in for, don't you? Scared gay murderous wizards who swear a lot and fall in love.

Chapter 49

Potter's PoV

And so we meet, perhaps two or three times a week, all three of us in Albus' messy, cluttered, but baronial office, and we plan, and discuss Voldemort, and luring him, and fighting him. It seems quaint to put it that way, but we settle into a routine of sorts, I suppose. Tom and I still train, each time dueling more savagely and skillfully than the last, I teach some classes, Albus sulks about his lover and buries himself in his books and his strategizing, there's plotting, there's late night calls because Riddle wants to discuss defensive meshwork spells at 2 am, there's nightmares, there's all of us pretending we are holding it together better than we really are, and, well, it's not really all that bad.

Though perhaps we're all lying to ourselves a little; there's still this merciless undercurrent of apprehension in all we do, this sense of foreboding in the background, silent but definitely there.

A few weeks in, we decide it's time to start the unfolding our design.

"How much progress have you made with it, my boy?" Dumbledore asks, his long, bony fingers ghosting over his auburn beard, straightening the occasional frizzy silver strands.

"It's been going very well," the young Slytherin replies with calm confidence, his handsome face retaining its usual blank splendour, but the very edge of his mouth ever so slightly lifted into a discreet sign of self-satisfaction. I no longer bother trying not to stare at him too obviously. Our desire for one another is mutual, acknowledged, and it is well-known to Dumbledore. We have to vanish it completely in class, or when our gazes meet amidst the crowd, in a busy corridor, and that's tiring enough. So why pretend when we are alone, or practically alone?

"Well, I am most sure of that, yes. Not only do you have a natural talent for Occlumency and Legillimency, but with me and dear Harry, here, as teachers, you have really no excuse for not excelling. But retaining enough conscious control to practice self-mind-sculpting while sleeping is still very, very challenging. We need to be sure you have perfected the discipline, before we can afford to expose you to Voldemort."

"Yes, I know, sir. But I mastered the crafting of fraudulent memories within less than two weeks, and I assure you that I have definitely managed to reach the same degree of meticulous control over the dream-state data. In fact, only yesterday Harry and I were flexing our mind-magic muscles, and when he invaded my mind, I showed him a fragment of a real dream, and a fragment of an artificially constructed one. Despite his incredible Legilimentic skill and his knowledge of me, he could not tell them apart," the boy states, a tiny, insolent, vulpine smirk on his lips, and he stares at the Transfigurations' Master right in the eye, challenging him to not be impressed.

Albus' clear blue gaze widens, for a fraction of a second, and he mutters "Oh?", turning his gaze to me, inquisitively. He is, indeed. impressed, as I assure him that Riddle's claims are absolutely true.

"Yes. His dream was flawless. No cracks or distortions, no haziness, no signs of artificiality. I could have sworn I was accessing a recent, well-preserved organic memory.

"Quite an accomplishment, young man."

Riddle's azure eyes glisten with arrogant pride.

"Do you think you could recreate this experiment, with me as an opponent, this time? And do you think you could manage to do so while in a state of sleep? Because if you can do that, then I think you are definitely ready," Albus adds, his voice soft and fatherly, but not without a hint of provocation, a baiting edge.

"I do believe so, yes," the adolescent wizard responds in a frore and bold tone, and the two of them stare at each other appraisingly for a few minutes, like wary and much-too-proud birds of prey. At this point, I am so used to their slightly competitive antics -and so used to the fact that this version of Dumbledore, significantly younger than the one I'd known, is much more playful, much more immature, much more vibrant than my own mentor had been- that I almost find them endearing.

Idiots. I love them, damnit.

A sleeping draught is used. Then the aging professor, his body tense with focus, dives into the sleeping mind of the young man, and for a few minutes I'm left staring at their still bodies, unable to see the invisible conflict, and getting only the vaguest sensation of... strain through the signature-blending bond. Riddle's jaw clenches, infinitesimally, as he stirs a little in his magically induced sleep, and Albus's eyes are unfocused, his lips parting to allow for a deeper breath. Knowing his skill to be such that in my timeline he'd casually read minds by the dozens, without even batting a lash or dropping his eerily pleasant smile, I can tell that Dumbledore is putting quite the effort into his sharp, deep, merciless scrutiny of whatever the boy is showing him.

When he finally lifts his eyes to mine, he looks pleased, but perhaps a slight bit terrified, also. "I couldn't tell. He really is ready for this. He's... awfully good."

"Isn't he?" I reply, smiling widely. Riddle's rapidly growing power no longer worries me, not even that small, suspicious, ever-whispering voice in the back of my mind. I tell myself that I have chosen to offer my full trust, and that I have made my peace with this gamble. I let my eyes climb the lines of his sleeping face.

Awfully good.

That very night, we make our opening move; a sequence of fastidiously built dreams meant to give Voldemort the impression that Tom is becoming increasingly vulnerable to influence, slowly falling into a dark spiral of existential torment, consumed by his internal conflicts.

A hook.

Tom's PoV

I'm at the bottom of the well, resting my back against the dark, humid, mossy stone; gelid, betrayed, bleak, alone, acrimonious, decomposing, hateful, hungry, enraged, silent. Left down here to rot alone like an animal, by these jealous, beastly Muggles.

For a long while, there is nothing. The only sound is my shaky breath escaping from between shivering, bruised lips, and the cool blood pulsing through my tired veins. My body quivers gently but constantly, like a hum. I only survive thanks to the tiny heat my reflexive magic provides, the barest flicker of life, and I survive bitterly and quietly, like a dormant disease.

Eventually, I discern the outline of a man against the blinding light coming from the far-off entrance of my shadowed, solitary hell. "I'm here. Let me throw a rope" he says, and I recognize Potter's rough, strong, heavy voice, his metallic timbre. Are you any different than those who left me here? I wonder to myself, but say nothing, because, sweet Morgana, how furiously I want to believe.

The rope falls, heavy and coarse, and I take it, my skin hurting and peeling as I climb my way out. At the entrance of the well, the sun is bright and the birds are singing, and Harry's strong arms grab me to pull me out, his handsome, rugged face smiling -a warm, affectionate curve-, his green gaze abright. He leans in to place a kiss against my lips, but my mouth is blue and cold, my skin chafed, my body angry, and somehow I cannot feel the warmth as much as I yearn to. Somehow the warmth does not sink in as deeply as I need it to.

I kiss him back, tempestuous with a strange, engulfing need to feel the heat reach the hollow insides of me, the holes, the empty, frigid caverns, the pains I keep under my skin. I kiss him more and more, hungrily, but the more I kiss him, the more I need, and I consume all the warmth like a black hole, until I'm getting desperate, and the question creeps up my aching mind: is it too late for me? Can anything ever suffice?

I wake up.

The field extends as far as the eye can see; charred oaks and elms atop dark, muddy hills, with smoke-filled, colourless clouds hanging low over the landscape. And bodies. So many dead bodies. Lifeless corpses looking up at me through vacant glares, broken and twisted in biologically impossible shapes, contorted into gut-churning parodies of vegetation, drenched in their own dark, dry blood, forming layers of crusty death over the greying skin, and amongst them I recognise the Italian wizards I slaughtered a few days back.

My work, my doing, my very own accomplishment, I think, and part of me wants to scream, to cry out in despair and primal horror until the back of my throat is tender and my lungs are raw, while part of me wants to walk over them, to watch in detached, mild interest as my boot sinks into their decaying flesh, as their cracked bones give way to my heavy heel, to feel this ugly, ambiguous triumph, this distant pleasure calling out to me.

No, no. I'm not like that. I only killed them to protect him. No. I whisper internally, trying to convince myself with as much willpower as I can summon from within my sinking ribs, and I look around me frantically, searching for refuge, for exit, for something. For Harry? that malignant, snide voice hisses into the very marrow of my bones, chilling me, wrapping me with a frisson of self-disgust and dread. Why would Harry be here? Look around you. This is what you are. This is what you have done. This is the landscape of your soul. Who would want to be here, with you?

I lean back against the hard bark of a lone tree and I try to cry, but no tears come out, because I am not truly distressed; you can only feel the true pain of grief, you can only ever really lament, if you had expected otherwise. I hadn't. Not really.

I wake up.

My sister runs to me, her violin in hand, a small, shy smile upon her dollish face, and, her voice clear but delicate like the clinging of a small glass bell, she asks if she may play for me, so I that I can help her improve. I do not return her soft expression, but I let my eyes rest against the youthful beauty of her pale, symmetrical face, her large zephyr pupils and her thick, black lashes, her cherry-shaped pink lips. She looks a bit like me, I note to myself, but so much more innocent, so much more gloriously frail and fresh and free of scars and crooks and sharp angles. New to life, without sin, and deserving of a future.


I could teach her Latin and Ancient Greek and Farsi, and I could lend her my books on botanology and history, I could tell her of my favourite poems, and I could offer her strength and whatever modicum of wisdom I might have gained, I could narrate the legends of Morgana, of the Peverells, of the Strigae for her, and I could...

No, I could not.

She screams, and, panic-stricken, she lets the instrument fall from her slender, trembling hands. In her eyes there is revulsion and terror, and she flees, she runs, she cries, she escapes, sobbing and shaking and cheeks grey with fright. The violin, fallen to the floor, is an elegant, expensive work of fine craftsmanship, covered with a lustrous veneer. It reflects my form.

My serpentine form. My lidless eyes. My dead man's flesh.

I do not wish to see, so I reach out to crush it with my wroth bare hands, and I do, enraged, animalistic, insensitive to all pain, I render it useless and formless, I wreck it down to ugly wooden splinters covered with my own thick, maroon blood.

I wake up.

The classes draw to a close and there is much celebration as Slytherin wins its third consecutive House Cup, much congratulation and admiration flowing my way for my flawless grades and my glowing academic accomplishments, and Dumbledore (I tire of mocking his family name, these days), my green man and I pack our things and leave the beautiful castle behind, moving our activities to the old nag's cottage.

"Tom... Are you still holding up alright?" the time traveler leans towards me and asks, the concern written all over his visage evidently genuine and obviously profound, as he gently places a wide, calloused hand atop my lower thigh.

"I'm fine," I reply tersely, and reach out to lift the small porcelain cup (a light mauve tribute to kitsch aesthetics. hideously adorned with small yellow and orange blossoms; the Transfigurations' Masters' taste in household objects is still as questionable as ever), lured by the soothing smell of fresh mint tea. I avoid his gaze, because he has learned me well -too well, even, to my disconcertment- and I think that he'll see the tiredness on my face if I allow him to watch me too closely, and he might draw the conclusion that I am incapable of finishing what I've set out to do.

I'm not.

"Of course. Let me ask this, then. No matter how you would be possibly holding up, would you ever give me an answer different to "I'm fine" in that previous question?" he questions me, his tone pregnant with worry, his eyes pushing, prodding, and I admit that I find myself, to my not exactly negligible surprise, almost relieved by his insistence, almost grateful for his relentless fretting.

"No," I admit, quietly.

"Please. This is not just your war. If anything, it should have been more my fight than yours. So let me partake, for Merlin's sake," he hisses almost angrily, but through that thread of communion, that weak, shivering channel ever opened between us, I do not get wrath, but frustration, and a strange flavour of pain, causing me to turn my eyes to him, examining silently the information stored in the shapes of his facial traits. As our gazes meet and meld, he slowly, gently, with a strange kind of extreme deliberation, lifts a hand and places -without pressure and yet without delicacy; a very nude, simple gesture- the back of his palm against my cheek.

"It's not exactly ...terribly easy, you know. In order to successfully manage to fool someone who has pretty much been who I am, or an approximate version of that, someone with intimate knowledge of the things that haunt my mind, the dreams have to be extremely... true. I cannot afford to flaunt shoddy constructs. I am forced to use, as raw materials for these fabricated nightmares, things that are not strange to me, not unfamiliar," I state, commanding my tone to remain as factual and neutral and monotone as possible; it's bad enough that I'm admitting this to him, how pitiable would it be to succumb to my tendency to occasionally decorate my words with a flair of theatricality, and make a melodramatic scene out of the whole thing?

"I know this already. And I can see it take its toll, Tom, I'm not blind. That still doesn't answer my question. How are you holding up?"

His irises glitter with a ferociously grave intensity, an unyielding demandingness, and I somehow find it difficult to hold my tongue, and feel the words rising up, climbing, clawing their way up my trachea to go throw themselves to him.

Damn you, Harry Potter; you simply don't back down, do you?

"I'm managing, but I'll not claim I'm completely unaffected," I whisper.

"Do you think it would help, to sleep with me?"

"I've been wanting to sleep with you for quite a while," I respond, forcing a playful, suggestive smirk to spread across my otherwise composed face, and using, as I so often seem to, this image of pure confidence, of graceful but shameless and assertive seduction, this almost malicious batting of the lashes, to distract from the subject at hand, to bring the conversation back where I know the upper hand is mine to hold. However, the green man, his angular jaw clenched, does not looks the slightest bit amused with my little libertine act.

"You know what I mean. Would it help?"

The predatory grin drops from my face, and I decide that truly, I am far too exhausted and far too benumbed to play this game with him right now, especially knowing I will never truly win, and yet never truly lose, either.

"Mayhaps it would. Who knows."

It is thus that our first night back at the cottage is spent in the same bed.

When he first transfigures, with a casual, light-hearted ease, a magical repose that never ceases to rouse powerful admiration and desire as well as envy in me, the the single beds into a slightly larger one, a thousand little fragments of my fractured, conflicted, labyrinthine mind start crying out in regret of my own decision, flinching at the sight of this kind of intimacy. He, curse his intuitive soul, his keen eyes, his natural talent for the understanding of emotions, immediately senses my discomfort and my dread, and he places a hand on my waist, gently pressing his lips to the back of my head.

Nonetheless, not only am I not soothed by this act, but, in fact, his simple, tender gesture seems to open a floodgate of inexplicable resentment in me.

Stop loving me so much, you thrice-bedamned self-appointed champion; you morbid, relentless adorer.

I don't need you to. I am not some pathetic broken thing, some festering wound, and I need no saviour, no care-taker, no paladin, no bandage. Stop, just stop, stop, stop. You make me feel weak and vulnerable, you make me feel ...need, and there is nothing I hate more than the feeling of need, you brings cracks to all the pillars that have held me up all these years; my self-reliance, my unaffectedness, my sangfroid, my pride, my vicious superiority, my coldness, you corrode and infect them like acid, like venom, like cancer.

I crave your love, but I hate it, by Morder's golden cuirass, I hate it. I hate every second you make yourself increasingly necessary, curse the moment you landed here, curse your idealism and your faith, curse everything you are and stand for, you who have so slyly managed to crawl your way into the dark depths of me and claim them for your own.

My eyes affixed to the bed, I draw a soundless, shaky breath, and clear my mind from the tempest of despair and the torrent of bitterness that is threatening to spill over.

He has his own demons, his own struggles; if I wish to feel less the helpless child, I should start by keeping my mouth shut, and my laughable melodrama to myself.

"Yes, that looks fine. I shall go bathe. I shan't be long," I state flatly, and I feel his invasive, knowing stare follow me as I leave the room.

Later, when we both climb into the bed, he knows better than to wrap his arms around me or caress me, or make any kind of overly sentimental declaration, for he can tell I am on edge -quite terribly so-, and while I shan't lie and declare that I do not enjoy his affection, his attention, his desire and his proximity, this is not a moment during which I think I'd manage to handle such things with as much level-headedness as I'd like. A few minutes pass, with us lying next to one another, in the dark, without even an inch of skin touching, and the perfect, deathly stillness and silence of the scene is only broken by the almost inaudible rhythm of our breaths.

It takes some thirty minutes for the back of his hand to come to lightly rest against my elbow; a hesitant, almost clinical drop of tactile connection, that I almost immediately feel too deeply, as if all of my nerve endings have gathered, like a bizarre bouquet of blossoms, right there, right where his flesh touches mine, afire. Two wildly opposed hungers grip me; to flee, and to sink helpless into the sensation.

Ten minutes later, letting out a lilliputian sigh -that, treacherous little sound as it is, almost resembles an animal sob- I turn my entire body with one great, forceful move, and throw myself into his arms.

Without any comment (and I feel more gratitude for this choice of wordlessness than I care to explore), he closes his arm around me, and lets us both drown in the closeness with as much dignity as there can be, until sleep overtakes me.

I stride; a pace neither swift nor languorous, a monotone rhythm of empty movement, and the shadowed stone corridor seems endless, stretching into the darkness towards no particular destination. I walk on and on and on for what seems like centuries, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, feeling only my skin slowly erode until my heel hits the floor bone on stone, leaving a trail of sticky blood behind me.


I am clinically alive, lungs expanding and contracting, blood pulsing through the intricate network of veins and arteries, and that is about all I experience; all else is not here, is too distant, goes unfelt, unseen, untasted, unreal, and there is no purpose in anything, every moment exactly like the previous and exactly like the next. I sometimes almost hear echoes of something happening somewhere, echos of people chatting, of owls cooing, some man yelling, some man congratulating, I feel echoes of some distant desires and plans and pleasures and pains, but none of them are here, with me, not really.

Then, I reach a room.

A large, beautiful room, with a tall, exalted ceiling of awe-inspiring baroque stonework weaved into high arches, full of libraries with rare, precious hardcover tomes, flawless, lustrous display cases with stunning artifacts stored within them, dark green carpets embroidered with elegant designs of serpents and drakes, and at the very end of the room, a beautiful, wide armchair.

It's not a throne stricto sensu -that would be too gaudy- but it is nonetheless exactly a throne.

Sit. It is yours. It is yours by right of blood, by right of merit, by every right. You are tired. You are hurt. Sit. I hear a voice suggest, a tone tranquil but beseeching.

I walk up to it, and I sit.

The walls all begin to crumble down, then, in a soft, almost mute rumble, a susurrus, and a gentle light hits my weary, numb face; the mauve light of a perfect, soft dusk, causing my tired lids to shut in purring pleasure. When I open them again, hours, years later, it seems, I am still seated upon my throne, and beneath me is an entire mountain of ruins. I narrow my eyes a little, squinting to manage to discern what there is, down there, in the distance, and I see. I see little, pitiable, ephemeral people, like pathetic, transient fireworks, short-lived, meaningless animals to me, I see their little lives, their petty desires, their aimless social conventions, their weakness, their need, their entire existence like a frail boat in a sea of primal urges and cliché little dreams, helpless, small, remote, engrossed in their aimless, momentary bonds and their funny little endeavors, little sparks of organic existence quickly lost in the inclement torrent of lethe.

I do not care. I laugh at them all.

I am serene, here, on my peak, eternal, quiet, alone, meaningful, powerful, communing with the greater things, the significant things.



At peace.

When my eyes flick open, they open much too widely, and I feel my heart race with a dizzying urgency, my thorax palpitating, my hands covered with a thin layer of humidity born to angst and intensity, my throat painfully dry, my mouth wordless. By the wings of Quetzalcoatl... my entire existence is already weeping at the loss of this flawlessly comforting vision, craving it with shocking urgency, crying like a babe bereft of a mother's touch, and I cannot believe just how profoundly I am yearning for what I have been shown, how well, how skilfully this monster has performed his first precise little surgery against my mind. Drawing a dreadfully deep and terribly conscious breath, I furiously throw all of my mind's processing power towards the palpable presence of my time traveler, towards the sensation of his skin resting against mine, his torso rising and falling, the small hairs growing on the back of his lined forearms, the texture of various cicatrices upon his war-wounded body, this light but raw scent of his (leather, Firewhiskey, lilies, chocolate, dried blood), his very existence.

Not alone.

I am unimaginably embarrassed by how much it actually... helps, to use him like that, my sleeping soldier, as a conceptual anchor, a pillar to tie my filipendulous sanity to when I feel myself so dangerously pulled by the immaculate beauty of Voldemort's siren call.

Almost immediately, however, I feel him stir also, and he awakens, eyes glimmering in the half-light that precedes the first rays of dawn, his hand sliding down the side of my back in a prudent motion, somewhat akin to a caress, but not quite.


"It's working." I declare in a shaky voice that I barely recognize as my own, an eerie combination of terror and triumph, the half-crazed junction where pain meets joy and savage satisfaction meets hopeless despair. "The beginning... It was of my own design. I crafted it myself, that corridor, that endless, meaningless drag of time, every detail, every stone ...but then it changed, Potter. It was altered, interfered with. It wasn't what I had meant to see, not what I'd concocted; it was him, his influence, his voice. I know it. It was him. He's been lured, and he is trying to plunge his tendrils into me again. The fool. The utter fool."


Who am I even calling a fool? Him, or myself? I wonder, watching my normally still, comely, poised hands now atremble with risible agitation.

No, no; I can do this. I'll do this.

"Kiss me" I beg.

Potter's PoV

From that day on, everything spirals down. Nothing I had not expected, of course. Voldemort is a master in the art of fucking with people's minds, especially minds he has some familiarity with. I'd bloody know.

But it spirals down quite fast, and quite hard.

Tom wakes at least an hour before dawn every night, his perfect face thoroughly haunted, and his eyes hazy with lingering visions. He does not like to talk much about what it is that Voldemort is showing him. I ask him, once, what it is that he is being shown, what it is that shakes him so and draws all blood from his cheeks, but the only response he deigns me with is a hollow "whatever he thinks I want to see". I don't dare press him further, because he seems to be walking a fine line, the shadows under his eyes growing darker by the day.

As July brings lovely, open skies and warm southern winds, the stunning, arrogant young man is a shadow of himself. He sleeps in my arms every night, and I hold him as tightly as I can, but I am only too well aware that it isn't his body that's slipping away. And what really is slipping away is not something I can hold onto with these experienced seeker's hands of mine.

"You've been drinking more and more, Harry. I'm not sure that much Firewhiskey is good for you, my boy," Albus mutters, lifting his light, almost bleached gaze from "Twenty-and-seven recipes of the Elfin peoples". He, too, is concerned about how our -admittedly, daring- plan is unfurling itself, but, frankly, I can't help but be bitter.

Oh, you're worried now, Albus? Get lost. You placed him in the wolf's mouth, and left me to pick up the pieces.

Yes, yes, I'm sure you considered ten million plans and after careful deliberation decided that this particular one had the best chance of success, for the greater damn good. Yes, I'm sure you mean well. Yes, I respect you, your ability to make difficult choices, to make the necessary sacrifices, to be objective where others cannot.

But bugger off.

"It's not as if I get drunk, anyway."

"Yes, I have noticed that you don't. You seem to be able to function quite admirably, even when suffering from a rather high blood alcohol concentration. But I fear you need to keep it together, now. Tom needs you more than ever."

"Oh, is that so? Well, I have no bloody idea what to do, Albus. He barely even speaks to me anymore, for fuck's sake! He kisses me every now and then with the tragic, desperate urgency of a man who is going off to die, and then nothing, for hours. Sometimes he sleeps against my stomach, wrapping his arms around me like he's afraid I'll vanish any second, and then he can't even bear to be in the same room with me. I can feel him drifting, and I have no clue how I'm supposed to ground him, to help. If I try too hard, say the obvious things, sooth him clumsily, I'll only make him angry, and alienate him even more. He'll take it as my doubting him, or implying he is weak; damn his irrational, weird pride! I just... I don't..."

I sigh and shake my head in exasperation, bringing the glass to my mouth again, feeling the sharp sting of alcohol down my throat.

"It's your love, he needs... It's..."

"My love. My flippin' love? Yes, of course, my love will solve all the problems on this fucking planet. Love this. Love that. Well, fuck you, sir, with all due respect. I'm tired of all the Disney princess bullcrap you keep spewing every time you don't have all the answers. Just say "I don't know", is that so hard for you to admit? Is it now?" I suddenly feel my voice rise, and I get off my chair, pacing around the living room a little, an irrational sense of stubborn grudge swelling in my chest. I turn my eyes to him, an accusatory glare, but his face barely react to my little poisonous exclamations.

"Yes. It's actually hard to admit. You're not the only one that's under pressure, dear Harry. You'll be surprised how often I'm expected to have all the answers," he finally replies, calmly, and at the sound of his hoarse voice, denuded of pretension, almost painfully sincere, as well as the powerful world-weariness in his eyes, my resentment towards him evaporates almost instantaneously. I sit myself back down, and think to apologize, but he interrupts me.

"You're right. Though I have no idea what a "Disney princess" is, you're right in accusing me so. Love is not always the answer. It's an easy answer, and one people like to hear, but it's almost never enough, Harry. You are absolutely right in that. People love each other all the time; their family, their friends, their lovers, their comrades. And yet people keep dying, keep getting sick, keep fighting in senseless wars, keep making up astounding new ways to hurt one another. I don't have the answers. In fact, I seem to be worse at this than most people, judging from how well I've managed to love my family and the man I chose for myself. I'm sorry, my boy. Tom is your Grail. I can't help you find him."

We stare at each other for a long while, and I eventually hand him over the Firewhiskey bottle, with a resigned, slow movement of the arm.

He takes it, and pours himself a glass.

And so, as the days go by, my sense of helplessness grows.

Sometimes, I get the urge to brutally pour out all my love of him. To grab him and kiss his smooth, marble-like skin all over, kiss his supple hands, his pale neck, his cheeks, his clear forehead, his lids, bruised from sleeplessness, his lips, his collar, the tips of his fingers, the top of his head, between the dark curls. To embrace him hard and violently, crush him in my arms, press my head against him and cry out "I'm here, for fuck's sake, let me do something for you. Please. I love you. I love you." I dare not, of course. It might be exactly what he needs, but it might also be a disaster. I don't know.

I don't know what to do, damnit.

I suppose, in a way, it brings me to my knees, when there's a war going on and I am not yet allowed to fight. You'd think I'd be tired of battle by now, of conflict and effort and blood and tears, and I thought so, too, but in truth, I'm forced to realise, to my own horror, that it's quite the opposite that applies. I was made into a soldier, and I have no idea how to be unmade. I don't know how to not fight, how to support from the sidelines, how to wait. I was always the one with the wand in hand, the one plagued by the nightmares, the one tortured by visions, the one bleeding; I'm defined by my suffering. Harry Potter, the man who suffers.

And when the suffering isn't mine, I am at a loss.

It's then that the doubts start creeping back into me, eating on my self-proclaimed certainty, my trust in Riddle.

Maybe you are losing him.

Maybe you have lost him already and you do not even know.

Maybe you did not even have him in the first place; it was all no more than the sloppy, momentary grip of a wet, clumsy hand.

Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. Tom Riddle, Voldemort, Dark Lord, young man, nemesis, lover, all of them meant to die at your hand. One of these grand designs of fate you can do nothing against, always the instrument of the plans of minds and powers far beyond your own. Always the pawn, never the chessmaster; story of your life.

But I cannot allow myself to think that way. So when I watch him stare at the wall, jaw clenched, eyes dark and much too intense with thoughts he'd never tell me about, and I feel myself question him, if he'll manage to pull through or if he's already losing this struggle, I bite back the thoughts, and I simply get up, brushing my arm against him lightly, pseudoaccidentally, as I walk past him and out of the room.

I'm here. I discreetly remind him.

Sometimes, I think I hear him sigh in gratitude.

No more than two weeks into the summer holiday, everything changes.

I unexpectedly wake up in the middle of the night, only to find him dressed, and standing up, leaning against the frame of our room's door. His hair is carefully parted to the side, his usual, meticulous coiffe -one that I'd not seen done so painstakingly since before this plan of ours-, his Slytherin necktie tied to the t, his robes sitting upon his body flawlessly and elegantly. His expression is one of the most frightening I've ever seen. On his arresting face there is a stillness even stronger than the one he usually wears, almost death-like, and his mouth is a line too straight to have been drawn without a ruler. His eyes look right into me, a deep, icy blue, as if he'd been expecting me to wake, and there is something too ominous in the air, too grave.

Immediately, my pulse spikes to furious heights, every part of me screaming out in intuitive alarm. I know, in every cell of my body, that this is not normal. Not so at all. A deep fear grips me, and the words can barely manage to roll off my tongue, numb with dread.


"It's time. Give me the other two Hallows. I need to go, Harry," he declares in a terrifyingly flat tone, oozing with peaceful finality and determination. I remain speechless for a long moment, before the truth of what he just said sinks into my freshly woken mind.

"Now...? How does...?"

"Now," he interrupts me, the traits on his face still unnaturally unmoving, but a restless irritation seeping into his monochrome tone. "I've left an event-activated note spell. You'll get the location ten minutes after I leave the wards of this cottage," he adds, as if this explains everything.

"You can't just... The plan was..." I begin, but I'm still dizzy with the shock of waking to this surreal situation, and brimming with the most crippling sense of foreboding, feeling my pulse beat at the rim of my mouth.

"By Bastet, we don't have the time for this right now! I have the cloak. You need to give me the stone and the wand. I know you have them on you!" he almost roars, an incredibly irritable impatience setting his eyes on cool, cruel fire. And yet, his face is still serene in a way that makes me existentially uncomfortable, completely unable to comprehend what is happening behind his still mask.

"Harry. The Hallows. I need you to trust me. Do you trust me?" he asks, his voice now a tad bit gentler, and something new in his gaze, something that I can't quite identify, either.

Do I trust you? I'd have said yes, a month ago. I love you. But do I trust you?

Right now...? I do want to say yes, believe me. But all of the warrior in me, the wary boy who lived, the animal, is screaming no.

"Harry? Do you trust me?" he repeats once more, now even more softly, with almost a plea in his eyes, and a hurt.

"I can't simply hand over... we'd agreed that..." I start mouthing, and suddenly his entire composure changes. The cool tranquility flies off in less than a split second, less than the space between two breaths, and a white-hot rage floods his entire being, an emotion so strong that it infects me, too, through that delicate magical bond we seem to share. It climbs up his body, tensing his every muscle, and reaches his eyes, that glisten with an unprecedented savagery amid the darkness of our room.

"Fuck you. You have no idea the things I have turned down for your sake! You have no idea how hard this has been! The things I've been given. You couldn't even begin to imagine, you poor man. And I'd let him hook me, intoxicate me, and then I'd turn them down, all down, for you. And you? You do not even... After all this time. After all your grandiose claims. You don't even trust me. Fuck you. Fuck you!" he hollers, a booming, wild voice, and a wrath of proportions unlike anything I'd seen before blossoms on his face, an anger so desperate and hurt and betrayed that I'm left, once more, speechless, unable to proceed all that is happening right now (too sudden... I don't...), but somehow certain that this is bad, this is terribly bad.

"I..." I begin, but the last thing I get to see before a superbly, overwhelmingly powerful stunning spell hits me, is his exquisite eyes grow dark, and narrow.

When my senses return to me, the Hallows are gone, and so is the boy. And next to me, on the cold wooden floor of the dark room, now lightly lit by the very first precursor rays before the breaking of the dawn, is a thin piece of paper.

The Gaunt Shack, it spells out, in Riddle's graceful, elaborate cursive.