A/N: Thank you for the reviews!
edited: June and October 2019
"In essence merged," Voldemort hissed with a sharp grin, apparently in response to Dumbledore's statement.
The phoenix leader sent a volley of what looked like tiny glass shards. Tom Riddle blocked with a minimum of wrist movements, then returned his own crippling spells with dizzying speed. Harry recognised only some of them, ones meant to incapacitate, numb, wound– or scrape the skin from the body, in case of the Dark Lord. Luckily, his old mentor seemed unsurprised by anything that came his way.
"What- what does he mean?" Harry stammered after watching numbly for a minute.
The wound on his shoulder burned. Bloody streaks were slowly creeping down his wand arm onto the tips of his fingers, making them sticky.
The sorcerers in front of him twisted and turned in a macabre dance, only a few meters between them. The little fires threw shadows that concealed rather than revealed their expressions. Albus seemed calm, while Voldemort's figure was all energy. Harry hated his own inaction – he dare not interfere, not with the speed of their duelling.
Bellatrix' distinctive cackles cut through the air behind him just as Voldemort bit out his next words, which Harry strained to hear:
"You've been coddling your golden boy too much, Dumbledore. Sheltered him from your darkest suspicions."
"They are neither suspicions nor dark. Harry's soul remains whole and strong," Dumbledore said in a low tone that was even harder to make out.
Harry's eyes were rooted to Voldemort's wand. Suddenly he was cast back to that sunny day, when Watanabe had been the bonder for their Vow. In the terror of earlier he had forgotten that trying to rip out the Horcrux would not end well for him. The Vow should be taking effect right about now, but... he felt no different, apart from his shaky legs in the cold of the night.
"What else did you keep Harry in the dark about, I wonder?" Voldemort sneered, throwing green flames which Dumbledore sidestepped, then negated with a freezing charm.
In the course of the night it had become clear that his mentor knew what he was, perhaps had known all along. He wouldn't easily forget the image of Dumbledore's hard gaze at the kitchen table.
A stray beam found Harry's position. Some kind of quidditch reflex made him duck out of the way just in time. The window behind him shattered.
Right, he was supposed to be getting inside... He carefully stepped through the broken glass, feeling a nick to his leg as his feet found purchase on the other side of the window. Inside he breathed slowly as he listened for intruders. He could barely make out the familiar forms of the cluttered table and sofa in the drawing room. There seemed to be no one here.
"The wizarding public will never submit to your radical agenda, Tom," sounded through the windowsill. Harry twisted his head to listen, feeling like an eavesdropper.
"The system of our government is far from perfect, we can agree on that. In fact, much like yourself I used to think I'd remake it into something better. I thought that meant showing the Muggles our true selves -"
There was a ringing sound where two curses met, and how did Dumbledore manage talking through all this?
"All it did was lead us into civil war, magical beings destroying each other–"
"But it was all for the greater good, was it not?" Voldemort jeered.
Harry inched over to the window to see. The man-monster was throwing an explosive volley of something that gleamed like metal, which Dumbledore swiped away, sparks setting the sky alight.
"Taking the Muggles in was your mistake, old man," the Dark Lord went on with an eerie smile, like he knew he'd scored a point. "I don't merge with them, I simply eradicate them wherever they impede our progress."
Voldemort's next curse was blocked with a wall of dirt that surged up around Dumbledore, pulled straight from the ground. The effect was like a small earthquake. Harry stumbled, grasping for balance, and cursed loudly when his palm met the jagged broken edge of the window.
Around him objects quivered in their places or lost the battle with gravity altogether. He murmured a quick episkey. The unexpected sweet smell of fresh flowers hit nose, probably a vase knocked over – he didn't dare cast a lumos to check. Riddle's gift of perception would come in handy now, but he clenched his teeth against that thought.
It was unclear whether they were still talking, until the Dark Lord suddenly raised his voice:
"Such noble convictions you share with your old flame Grindelwald. Have you gone to visit him yet? Your great love, the one you were so quick to forgive for his bloodlust. You told everyone you had defeated him, but I hear you just couldn't bear to kill him…"
Harry gaped blindly into the darkness around him. Old flame?
"You see, Potter," the man went on, and he jerked in surprise at being addressed directly - "Love makes one weak."
The feeling of blood pouring over his arm was making him queasy – he should sit down-
"Harry!" a loud whisper behind him.
He spun with a curse on his lips, but strong hands pushed his wand aside. Again he felt naked without Riddle.
"There you are," the man said and he now recognised Mr. Weasley's voice. "Come, let's get away from that window, why are you standing there? Someone could see you."
"How are you, sir? How is the fighting going?"
It annoyed him how Arthur was studiously avoiding the name, as if that could banish the man's attack mere feet from them. The man guided Harry through the drawing room and into the tiny hall, where the light from the hanging lamp revealed dark scorch marks on the man's robes.
"Oh it's fine, Harry. The battle is turning in our favour, now that we've got reinforcements," Arthur smiled. "Let's say we have more friends now than we did before."
When his gaze reached Harry's eyes his smile stiffened at the edges, then relaxed again.
"Good," Harry said.
"Let me see." Arthur stated. Grasping his shoulders at arm's length, he gave Harry a once-over. "That is a nasty cut you've got there, and on your leg I see-"
"Did you know Voldemort's here?" Harry needled him.
Mr. Weasley flinched, whipping his wand left and right as if to check for intruders. "Don't say the name," he said harshly. "You should know by now it's not worth it. Yes, and I heard that last bit just now. Don't believe what he's saying, Harry."
"A-alright," he stammered, thrown by the sudden directness.
The man shook his head. "Can't imagine what kind of delusions he's been feeding you these past few months."
"I can think for myself, you know," Harry bit off, then forced his shoulders to relax. Here was a friend, come to help him get away.
Arthur raised a brow. "Can you, now?"
Harry looked away to study the plastic Muggle umbrella stand.
The hand on his shoulder was back. Mr. Weasley murmured: "I'm not here to judge you, Harry. You gave us quite a scare, that's all. I guess I'd better take you to Fred and George's. There you'll be safe."
"How did they manage to find me – a tracking spell?" Harry asked.
"No, we check for those. Now, quickly."
Despite the adrenaline in his chest, Harry had to smile when he saw the object the man took out with a flourish: a light bulb. He put a finger on the glass. With a "one, two, three," from Mr. Weasley they were wrenched from the Burrow. They arrived in a more brightly lit apartment floor. The space needed several glances to take it all in.
The octagon space was filled with stacks of gleaming orange-stickered boxes and barrels of all sizes bearing the mark of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, in some places nearly to the tall ceiling. Some were open - they revealed toys, potions, Hogwarts hall size candles, firework arrows, and weirdly shaped tools of unclear function. One corner of the room appeared to be in the middle of a flooding crisis: the floorboards were covered with a thick grey drab that stunk of brackishness. A self-scrubbing broom and bucket were trying to reclaim the territory, to no avail. Four tall windows showed the night sky.
There was just enough space in the middle of the room for a round working desk. Two familiar redheads were seated on rickety chairs, grown men now really, staring Harry down with disturbingly intense gazes. Harry wondered if he reminded them of Ginny.
They looked to be in the middle of administration, quills in hand and tea nearby. A bouquet of Extendable Ears was draped in a tall butterbeer glass with a sign from Madame Rosmerta's. A jazzy tune was coming from the radio next to it. One of the twins slammed it like a Muggle alarm clock to make it go quiet.
Mr. Weasley scraped his throat. "Boys, we've hit a bit of a snag in the plan. I hope you don't mind Harry staying here, just until things settle down."
The silence held a bit too long for Harry's comfort. Then Fred or George said: "Sure thing, dad. Hi, Harry."
"Hi," Harry returned quietly.
Mr. Weasley was wringing his hands, then realised he was doing so. He dropped them with a sigh. "I have to get back-"
The other twin stood abruptly with a sound of wood scratching on wood. "How's the fighting going? Your message sounded bad."
"Well enough, Albus managed to signal in time when Riddle showed up and breached the wards." Rubbing the back of his head, he went on with a grimace: "We're not sure-"
"Wait," the seated twin cut in, frozen to his seat. "You're not saying Riddle is at the Burrow?
"U-No-Poo, in person?" said his brother.
"How the hell-"
"Albus is taking care of it. And this is why I have to get back," Arthur said hastily, pulling his wand.
The person Harry decided to call Fred locked eyes with Harry, who felt a burn in his stomach. His brother snatched his wand from the table. "I'm coming with you, I'll just use one of the-"
"NO," Arthur bellowed suddenly. Surprised by his own outburst he continued more quietly: "We've been over this. They'll know it's you, we can't risk it. I have to go." He pulled the light bulb from a pocket. "Take care of each other," he stated before disappearing from the room.
George was still standing frozen and armed. He seemed to wilt in the next second. "Well," he muttered before sagging into a different chair.
Fred went round the table towards his position. It was easier to keep watching George twirl his wand between dexterous fingers then to confront their stares.
"You're the reason he was there," Fred said into the quiet like stones dropping on concrete. "Why wouldn't he follow you here, as well?"
Harry led out a slow breath.
Fred was suddenly in his face, scrutiny bordering on disgust. He jerked back. He opened his mouth but couldn't find any words.
"Don't think it worked, George," Fred said, trapping Harry with his gaze. "Could be he's still here with us."
Harry wrenched out of his hold to scowl: "What do you mean?" He knew what they meant. But it could hardly be true, or he wouldn't be allowed to come here, right?
"That monster is still in there," Fred said through clenched teeth.
George came to stand between them. Then he looked at Harry. And did a double-take.
"What?" Harry snapped. "What?"
"Speculum," George said. A mirror appeared which he shoved into Harry's hand.
At first he could not see anything strange. When he looked more closely, he found an anomaly in his eyes. There were red specks filtering through the green, sinister little droplets.
He gave the mirror back before it could fall from his lifeless palm.
Harry looked from one identical face to the other. "Why don't you take my wand, then? It's probably no use trying to convince you."
"Why don't you sit down and tell us what happened," Fred returned, more genial suddenly. "I'll get the first-aid kit. Aside from your shoulder, are those shallow cuts?"
And so, after he was bandaged in a few places and a towel was placed on his shoulder drenched in essence of Murtlap, Harry talked. He told them of the nearness of the Dementor, of passing out and finding Riddle's voice gone.
"So do you…" Harry began, then rephrased: "Everyone knows about my… problem?"
"If you mean the Order, we do."
He didn't know why that surprised him.
"Don't take this personally Harry, you can hardly fault us for being careful. That's why you were supposed to have gone with Dumbledore tonight. But then snake-face showed up and ruined everyone's evening, as usual."
Harry felt his eyebrows rise. "You sicced a Dementor on me, remember?"
They remained silent. He wished they'd just speak their minds around him like they used to. Perhaps he had changed more than he thought. And the eyes didn't help. "I understand," he backtracked. "I wouldn't trust me either."
"Perhaps he should cast a patronus," George suggested to Fred.
"No, they could be two separate entities." Fred's gaze lit up suddenly. "We do have a bottle of Snape's finest Veritaserum. Stolen fresh from the batch earlier this week."
After some arguments back and forth - Harry was resigned to whatever the verdict would be - they decided on the Truth Serum, for two reasons. Voldemort was one of the most private persons Harry knew, never spilling anything of his past, especially not the secret of his immortality. Even if he had somehow build a tolerance the risk was just not a sensible one to take - so he'd be screaming murder with the first drop on his tongue. Secondly, they could ask Harry things that Voldemort couldn't possibly know.
After a round of tea, Harry was offered four drops on the tongue, just over the legal limit. Harry wanted to be sure just as badly as the twins did. In silence they waited for the potion to take hold. He felt like his brain was gently kneaded in giant hands as he stared at the table. His tongue seemed to have vanished completely.
"Why do you love Ginny?" George said, piercing through the haze. Fred beside him sucked in a harsh breath, eyes shooting towards his brother. Harry took all of this in stride.
"Because she is fierce, and kind, and she gets me, gets how difficult it can be to stay strong when everyone is chewing you out, or using you for something." he murmured with the thick slur of a drunk. "I love her warm hair in the sun. I love how she smells like…"
"Alright," George cut him off hastily. Harry blinked, slowly emerging from these pleasant musings, though something seemed not right about them. But that thought disappeared.
"What did Sirius mean to you?"
Harry's eyes filled at once when his slow mind processed the past tense. "I've always wanted someone to just love me for myself," he drawled slowly. "They either hate me or love me for something I did as a baby. Sirius didn't care about any of that. He just wanted me to be safe."
George and Fred were looking at each other, though their exchange was now gobbledygook to Harry.
"Er… I'm convinced," said George.
"Hm, I've got one more." Fred turned back to Harry. "Who do you want to have sex with?"
George choked on his tea. "This would be really traumatic if-"
"Hmm," Harry mused. That was a tricky one. He wanted to say Ginny but that wasn't quite true for some reason… Ah. "Cho. And I think Bella is quite a catch."
"What the fuck?!"
This too came at him slowly, from far away. Fred put a hand on his brother's shoulder and looked at him intently, until George sat back.
"You mean Bellatrix Lestrange?" Fred continued.
"Yes," Harry responded. His eyes wanted to drop closed.
"You want to… have sex with her."
He remembered her Dark Mark, like honey. "Maybe. She seemed to want me, anyway," Harry murmured. "I'm not sure about Cho."
George was whispering to Fred on the other side of the table: "Really. How far from a Dark Lord can you get?"
"He calls her 'Bella'?!"
"That makes sense, he's been in his mind for we don't know how long." Then louder, to Harry: "Don't you think the Dark Lord should get to have her, Harry? Isn't he more entitled to her than you?"
At that Fred burst into laughter. Tears were soon making their way over the older boy's cheeks. Harry smiled at him. George shushed his brother.
"No." Why, though? "She adores him, but it wouldn't be equal. And it wouldn't mean anything to him, he's lost that side of himself. So I would be better at it."
George was chuckling now as well. "That decides it for me."
"Shit," Fred stated when they managed to stop laughing.
"We don't have any antidote."
George shrugged. "It's night anyway. Come on Harry, let's get you to bed before we succumb to our curiosity."
Harry remained silent, since they hadn't asked him a question. They pulled him up by his arms anyway, which he allowed only because his eyes were still drooping. They ascended a ladder to what was clearly the attic. A sea of soft blue lights came on, floating near the ceiling. Harry stared at them in wonder.
"Here," Fred or George said. "You can have Lee's. He won't be back until next Friday anyway."
Harry was slowly pushed onto a mattress. He happily placed his head on the pillow. His shoes were removed and a blanket was drawn over his shoulders.
"Say," a twin said grinning, "Which Weasley do you like the most?"
"Ginny," Harry answered at length. The face floating in the blue light crumbled, then shook silently with something Harry couldn't grasp.
The other pulled his brother into a hug. "It's fine, it's fine," the man said again twice.
"What's wrong?" Harry managed to wring from his mouth after some effort at shaping words.
"Nothing, go to sleep."
Harry woke to a stroke of slanted light crawling its way up his pillow. He blinked at the thick beams that hung one meter above his head. The Burrow – no, he was at Fred and George's place.
That cleared his brain fast. He shot upwards, looking left and right. The brothers were not here. He went to take care of his morning abolitions in the area next to the bedroom.
Their experiment seemed to have worked, but Harry was hard pressed to believe he could actually be rid of that reincarnation of the Dark Lord. The man had made a reputation of being indestructible like a cockroach. Seeing his reflection in the mirror above the sink did little to put him at ease. He put his nose close to the surface. What seemed greyish green from a distance became green bleeding red up close. The little flecks appeared to be twinkling, taunting him.
He imagined them as poisonous snakes and tried: "Are you there?"
"Yes, yes, your eyes are striking," a male voice in the mirror spoke. He jumped, heartbeat ringing in his ears, then realised the voice sounded nothing like Riddle. He cursed next, more because the parseltongue had worked than anything else.
"You'll have to try better, kid, I've heard them all."
When he came down the ladder the twins weren't in their office either. But there was a small breakfast ready for him at the table. He poured still-warm tea into a purple-orange mug. Harry scrubbed his face hard when the memory hit him again from last night. The way he'd answered that sex question… And going on and on about Ginny. They'd never let him live it down. He rubbed his scar. It prickled.
"What the hell!" he yelled in shock. He slammed his fist next to his runny eggs, resisting the urge to swipe the whole breakfast set from the table.
""Damn it, you fucker! Let's have it then. Talk to me you spineless, ugly," – what would drive Voldemort up the wall? – "We're destroying your soul bit by bit you know, didn't think we'd find out did you-"
"What the hell."
He turned, shoulder drooping. "Oh."
George or Fred had come up to stick their head around the door. "What's going on? We're trying to run a shop here."
"Sorry, just letting off some steam."
"I can understand that, but keep it down will you?"
"Sure, I will. Thanks for breakfast."
"No problem. How are you feeling? I'm George by the way." He pulled at the green shirt peeking out from under his purple-orange work set. "We took pity on you."
"I'm fine. How's the shop going?"
"Good. I can recommend our new love potions, they are quite popular." He winked, retreated, then pulled back to say:
"Oh, Dumbledore is coming in half an hour."
"How did last night go?"
"It went well. We didn't lose anyone and we managed to catch a few of them."
"So we've got hostages now?"
"We've had hostages," George corrected. "You know that when the Death Eaters get back from a fight with the Order, they're put under interrogation by orders of the Dark Dick, right? To find out our tactics, our identities, our strengths. So we do a little counter-surveillance of our own on the ones we manage to catch. Then we Obliviate them of course, making it seem like they were never caught in the first place. It's only fair."
George grinned then. "So it's good you've been cured from Dark Dick-ism." George went out again before Harry could point out he should be a little more sceptical.
He sat down heavily. He really didn't want to face Dumbledore again so soon; way too much of Voldemort was still sticking to his skin. There was a Daily Prophet ready on the table to take his mind of things.
'Boy-Who-Lived stolen from Hogwarts, nation-wide search on its way.' And right below: 'Rebel headquarters dismantled'. With a picture of Aurors - or whatever they called the agents in Voldemort's pockets these days - securing the perimeter of the Burrow. It was somehow a relief because instead of a building he'd expected to see a burned-out shell.
Breakfast done, he took the dishes to a little sink near the swampy area, careful not to get the stuff on his socks. Cleaning them manually with a sponge brought some calm to his shoulders. He never minded the chore at the Dursley's either.
Someone chuckled behind him. He spun, wet plate in hand.
Albus Dumbledore, resplendent in night blue robes and matching gloves, stood in the doorway, smiling at the ground near Harry's feet.
"They're still trying for the portable swamp, I see. Alas, I see no way of allowing such a product in any legal manner. Good morning, Harry."
Harry nodded back, a bit stunned still by the man's presence.
Dumbledore studied him. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes." Which was probably only because of the Veritaserum, he added to himself.
One eye-brow went up. Oh oh.
The phoenix leader drew closer. Harry froze, but Dumbledore merely took a potion bottle from the sink to study closely. "One of Severus's brew." He sniffed. "Odourless." He turned his gaze, expectant.
"Shouldn't you… ask someone first before you Legilimise them?" he muttered, miffed.
Albus hummed. "Normally yes, but you were wearing your thoughts on your sleeve, so to speak."
"Yes, well," Harry went back to the dishes. "We wanted to make sure."
The man's light tone niggled at his nerves. Harry dropped the sponge, hunching over the sink. "I mean, I know he's not completely gone," he said to the tiles in front of him. "My scar still tingles... But we don't think he can control my thoughts any more."
"Are you sure?"
"Well, he'd hardly take four drops of Veritaserum just to keep his cover, would he? He wouldn't risk his secrets getting out. And just in case he's taken over and I just don't know it... we all agreed only I could have given those answers. Things I said about Ginny, for example. And Sirius."
He braved a look. The man's eyes were radiant up close, in sharp contrast to his wrinkled appearance. His mentor drew a breath to speak, but Harry held up a hand, feeling quite rude after the fact:
"I know, sir, he's a master manipulator - he's been impersonating me. But he doesn't understand…" He balled his fist, frustrated with how to explain. "What drives me, it's not something he's known. So he cannot fake it. Not about Ginny, not to Fred and George."
He swallowed hard when Dumbledore remained silent, merely watching him.
"I imagine it was excruciating sometimes," the man spoke after a moment.
Harry turned back to the sink, although all the dishes were clean now.
He shrugged, not sure why he felt like faking nonchalance. "At school sometimes he would just... take over. When I was angry at Malfoy, for example. Riddle, he would speak with my mouth and threaten him. And in the dormitory he would grab a Mark of one of the new Death Eaters, make it burn just for the hell of it." He turned around to stare at the rows of boxes. "Sometimes he helped me out, when I got into some kind of trouble. He even talked to me inside my head, in the end, mostly to mock me."
Of course then Dumbledore wanted to know who the new recruits in Slytherin were. Harry told him of the handful he was sure about - funny thing most of them were his dorm mates.
"You have held up remarkably well under the pressure, Harry."
The man's words of pride rang hollow. "I had to kill someone. Umbridge." He braced the sink with both hands, closing his eyes.
A hand fell on his shoulder. This was no news to Dumbledore, apparently. "And your friend lived because of it. Often-times, Harry, all our choices consist of losses and we only have the power to decide which one to bear."
He nodded, gulping back the tightness that wanted to spill out. It had been so long since he had experienced a strong emotion, because of Riddle's interference, that he now felt adrift letting them wash over him, even though it should have been liberating. But informing the Phoenix leader was important, so he soldiered on:
"I- I tried to find more horcruxes, just like you told me to. I found nothing in the place he was keeping me - his manor I suppose. I also looked inside the Chamber at Hogwarts; it just seemed empty."
"The Chamber of Secrets?"
"Yes." He braved Dumbledore's gaze. "Someone else should check out the manor, I think. I don't know where it's located, but maybe you can look into my mind?"
The blue eyes flickered between Harry's, but there was no push of his mind. "I cannot risk a mental connection between me and him at this time. I believe, like yourself, that he is not completely gone."
Something struck him that was of the utmost importance. "Vo- Riddle had me take a Vow. Before I went back to school, when he found out I knew. But," he frowned. "It doesn't appear to work because last night we managed to…"
"…thwart him," Dumbledore finished when he trailed off. "Do you remember the wording?"
Harry thought a moment, although that led him to something else he needed to confess: "If I focused hard on a person he's got a connection with, I would... fall into his memories, like I'd dipped my head in a pensieve. I would suddenly remember a moment with them that was completely strange to me. I hope that's finished now... That's how I learned how Snape got into his service, for example," he went on, spitting the name. "Poisons, go figure."
As expected, nothing in Albus' expression told him what he thought about that. "They were little things I found out, fragments. And they seemed useful so I tried it a lot at first, but it got too intense, too gruesome, watching his memories. So I kind of started avoiding those after a while…"
"Quite understandable. I am relieved to hear you didn't dwell on his thoughts any more than you had to. As the Vow you mention, let me guess: it demanded you would keep anything you learned from the Horcrux a secret?"
Harry nodded. "And I can't take any action that could damage it."
Dumbledore hummed. "Which is quite ironic, seeing as the Vow made sure taking action would then cause your death, thereby destroying the horcrux. It's actually a miracle that you are safe and sound, in hindsight."
His mentor shook his head, catching his eyes with a serious look. "You should have told me what was at stake, Harry. I'd never have gone through with it."
It all happened so fast... "I'm glad you did, because I think this is exactly why he made the vow that way. To keep us from trying to remove it."
"Fine reasoning," Albus conceded with a nod. "With the kind of convoluted logic I've come to know from Riddle. Although that still leaves us with a conundrum. As you rightly point out, the Vow should have taken effect. That it has not is a most curious phenomenon which I'll think on more later." He clapped his hands. "Now it is time for tea and biscuits."
A purple-orange tray came from one of the stacks to float towards the table, complete with a steaming tea set.
They enjoyed their tea – a fruity concoction. Harry marvelled silently at his change of circumstances. Which reminded him, he should just rip off that bandage now...
"Have you known all this time?" His gaze fled to the tea cup in his hand. "About me."
"After you described to me your nightmare of being in Nagini's mind two years ago, I came to suspect it."
"Volde- Riddle talked about something like 'essence merged', that's me and the soul part, right?"
Albus gave a nod.
"So then I'll never be rid of it," he said listlessly, gazing on the swamp. "He's won, it's still inside me. I'll have to, to- "
It seemed such a crude thing to say aloud.
Albus shifted to the edge of his seat to catch his gaze. "One thing at the time, Harry. We've already weakened him so much that he cannot converse with you from inside your thoughts. And I dare say he won't be 'taking over' again, as you described it, simply because he cannot submit his will over something that he himself is intricately merged with."
Harry felt a shudder crawl over his arms. "So we share one mind now."
"But it is still your mind he is clinging to. You have the advantage, Harry. We'll just have to find the right leverage."
Harry nodded, but inside he felt colder than before: how could he get ahead of something inside his own mind?
"I believe I owe you an explanation, Harry," Dumbledore uttered when they had been enjoying a friendly silence for a while. "It concerns something from my past that is most painful to me."
Harry shifted in his seat. "Sir, about last night, you don't have to-"
"But I do. It has been one of my greatest mistakes. You see, as Tom Riddle correctly described, Gellert and I were close friends in our youth. We were both idealists, wanting to make a better place for wizardkind, to stake a claim on a corner of the world for our own people separate from Muggles."
Harry took slow sips of his tea. He couldn't belief the greatest wizard of the age felt the need to explain himself – to him.
"But whereas I wanted to work within the system of government, Gellert chose to put himself above the law, enforcing his power over non-magical folk, even going so far as to kill Muggles in order to subjugate them. Soon enough he would refuse to hear any criticism of his radical ideas, even from me. That's when I should have put a stop to it. The war could have been over much sooner, had I not been blinded by maudlin sentiment."
"But… you can't always know what the right choice is in every situation, can you?"
"You are quite lenient with me, Harry." There was that wistful smile again as Dumbledore regarded him. "I'd like to test something, if you are agreeable."
After his nod, Dumbledore shifted his chair so that he was facing him fully. Harry copied him.
Albus took off his gloves. He raised his palms to both sides of Harry's face. "May I?"
Harry nodded, trying not to stare at the damaged hand, which seemed to have been dipped into a sheen of silver that reminded him awfully of unicorn's blood. The hands covered his cheeks in the next second – the silver one much cooler than the other.
Dumbledore had closed his eyes. He appeared not to be breathing.
Then something… pushed upwards inside his head, towards his scar. Harry felt a great irritation that was already growing into revulsion, or rage... His face twisted into something grotesque. His left cheek was on fire - a burning line right where Nagini had scarred him. He hissed, hands rising and trembling to rip the man's hands from him, to smash his face in-
Rational thought won out, barely.
Dumbledore pulled away, and the feeling dropped into nothingness. He rubbed his cheek, which was only twinging now. He looked down to find he'd scratched his knees bloody.
His mentor was frowning. "I'm sorry this was such an ordeal, Harry."
Dumbledore's gaze found his knees and he waved his wand, healing them. Harry noticed its unique appearance, with carvings running down its length.
The former headmaster studied Harry's cheek more closely. "Who did this?"
At that, the man fell back into his chair as if Harry had told him he was his grandson.
"What is it, sir?"
He frowned, shaking his head. "I'll explain later, Harry, when we are sure of where we stand with regards to our unwanted guest."
Harry waited for the verdict.
"Your magic is considerable. And not entirely your own. I believe that your magical core and the horcrux's have... merged, let's say, because of the events of last night. I don't mean younger Riddle's mind - or at least not only his mind - but the magic. It is quite unheard of, two magical signatures in one person." Dumbledore did not seem too happy about this. "Normally, forcing foreign magic on a person ends with either the stranger's magic conquering the other's or being rejected. But then again, you share blood and souls, which could make you more compatible. Have you cast a spell yet?"
Harry turned to look at the dishes in the corner dumbly. "No."
His mentor stood and he followed. The complete set of table and chairs vanished and the boxes nearest to them shifted onto their neighbouring stacks to clear more space.
"Let's see, then. A Reducto, if you please." Dumbledore shifted to a duelling stance.
Harry pulled out his wand and aimed, then lowered it a fraction. "Er, what about all this stuff?"
Albus smiled softly. "Not to worry, my boy. I have great control over this room. Throw your heart into it."
Harry swallowed. "Reducto!"
He had to hold on tight to keep hold of his wand with the force of the magic that burst out of it. Dumbledore blocked the curse, the sound of his shield colliding like a gong. Harry jumped, thinking of Fred or George's earlier admonishment.
His mentor smiled lightly, apparently content. "Excellent, Harry. I do believe his magic has fortified yours, although your aim is somewhat unfocused. We can work on that."
Harry scratched his head. "You know, at Hogwarts he gave me the impression he wants me to become stronger as well."
Dumbledore hummed. "He was counting on the horcrux taking over. Of course we cannot yet rule out the possibility of that happening in the future - with the Dementor's effect on the soul shard we are journeying into unfamiliar magical terrain. But I get the impression you feel more like yourself at the moment, correct?"
"Good, I consider that a battle won. Well," Dumbledore rubbed his hands briskly. "I very much enjoyed our talk. I shall take my leave now, to see how the wounded are faring."
"Are they badly hurt, sir?"
"Nothing permanent, we have been lucky in that regard." Dumbledore took a few steps closer, so that Harry had to look up slightly. "Tom could've tried to take you from the Burrow yesterday. Instead he focused his attention on me. He let you slip away deliberately, convinced you would return shortly under the influence of his soul-part. Now he knows his mistake."
The man's next words made Harry shiver:
"If he finds you again, he won't let you go so easily next time. Which is why I believe it would be wise for you to stay here for a while."
Harry nodded, thinking of the castle and his friends there - was that part of his life over now?
Dumbledore spread his arms to encompass the room. "I placed this part of the building and the bedroom under a Fidilius. Please do not venture further downwards, no matter how urgent a call you may get. Our current headquarters is a high profile target and therefore less safe. However," the man's eyebrows rose. "I can allow for a couple of visitors here. I know of a certain studious girl who can't wait to see you."
"Hermione!" Harry said, feeling his mouth tug into another smile.
"Just the one." Dumbledore tapped an invisible hat, pulling his gloves from a nearby pocket. "This is just a temporary solution. Remus will be visiting as well to bring you some clothes and whatever else you might need. If your scar starts acting up, do not hesitate to contact me: I am a mere patronus away.''
Harry entertained himself with the different knick-knacks in the room to pass the time. There was a whole section of metal contraptions, which he resolved to ask the twins about. Fred and George came upstairs in the beginning of the evening, carrying the delicious scent of pot roast in a large casserole. Courtesy of their mother who'd come to the shop a few minutes ago, Fred explained. They dug in after George brought out cold pumpkin juice from who knew where.
"Everyone's dying to see you," George said around a mouthful. "Dumbledore is strict, though. Mum he can't refuse of course, so I think you'll see her soon. And she told us Remus will be coming tomorrow."
"That's great." He still felt a slight unease at their presence, like they could switch back to their previous hostility any moment.
"Also," Fred inserted with a mischievous glint in his gaze. "Bellatrix, huh?"
Harry stomped him under the table, cheeks flaming.
"The real question to ask here," his brother said, "Is how do you know she's so hot?"
"That's what you want to know? Not 'why do you like that murderous bitch?'" Harry returned, feeling all the worse when he thought of Sirius.
"Oh you don't have to like her," Fred said airily. "Didn't stop Padma from banging Malfoy."
Harry coughed when the food went down badly. "Right."
"The worst taste, though…"
"I still kind of hate her though. She was a little overbearing that's all, when I saw things more through Riddle's eyes."
George shivered. "You saw things through his eyes?"
Right, perhaps he was saying too much. How had Dumbledore explained the whole situation to them? "Well, because we share a connection I sometimes felt things the way he does. And he... I don't think like is the word - he tolerates her best, aside from Nagini."
Fred shuddered dramatically. "You mean he and her..."
"I can't believe I'm having this conversation. No, not like that. Jesus."
"That poor fellow?"
"He's trying to distract us. So Harry," George smirked, "What about this femme fatale caught your fancy?"
They were obviously not going to let this go. "I felt a kind of history with her." He shrugged. It was hard to explain that he was feeling a fondness from a much younger version of Voldemort.
"The foils of youth." George wagged his eyebrows.
Harry looked down at his steaming plate. "I think I'm done now."
"Oh come on, we're just messing with you. She is freakishly hot, her thighs could compete with Angelina's."
George stomped Fred in the side at that. "So I hear," Fred smiled at George. Then he turned back to Harry: "But Cho is perhaps the more healthful obsession, in terms of life expectancy."
Harry pointed a fork at him accusingly. "All this information was given to you under illegal circumstances, you know."
Fred waved it away. At least they stopped harassing him, which gave Harry the chance to needle George about Angelina.
He'd already counted on a restless night, considering he was not under the influence of a potion this time. As he closed his eyes though, his mind pulled him under at once.
Like a film reel being turned, he dreamed.
He was looking down on a rumpled, trembling figure splayed on the gleaming floor, head turned to the ground. Watanabe wasn't trembling from fear, Harry knew with some satisfaction, but the wild, uncontrollable jerks caused by prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus. It was enough for now: he could always kill him later.
Harry found he was suddenly looking up at the ceiling – all this happened quite beyond his will – and he recognised the familiar fixtures of Voldemort's drawing room.
"Ah Harry, welcome," he hissed to himself. "You remember Takumi. He has been loyal to me, yet still he failed me – failed us both actually, with the oath he sabotaged." The parseltongue was weirdly meditative in contrast to the words, like hearing a bedtime story.
"My lord?" Watanabe uttered weakly near the vicinity of his feet, probably perturbed by the hissing.
"Or failed to execute rightly, I care little which, for the outcome is the same."
"Leave me," he dismissed the man while still contemplating the ornamentation above him. Harry sensed how the Death Eater dragged himself stumbling out of sight.
Riddle walked towards the dark windows to watch his own reflection from up close. "You have not returned, therefore I must conclude that my precious soul-part has lost control over you."
He smiled thinly, which frightened Harry more than his anger. "But we share blood and souls, horcrux. And you see," he spread his long-sleeved arms, white palms upwards as if to encompass the whole room, and his face lost all expression. "Our connection remains - I am forced to experience all your insipid little emotions from hundreds of miles away."
He turned and Harry could see the rest of the room and the fireplace more clearly. "Now, you have violated something very dear to me and so I must violate something of yours…"
His eyes zeroed in on the table, at the head of which sat Ron. His friend met Harry's gaze squarely. The twisted expression on his face told Harry he was clearly in much pain. His forearm with the Dark Mark was splayed over the table, the other hand clamped down on it. He gave a sound of agony through his clenched lips as Harry drew closer to take the seat next to him.
Harry raised his wand to point at Ron's head. "Don't fret, Weasley. I'm sure Potter will turn up soon at the gates of Hogwarts. Crucio."
Ron's screams pierced Harry's mind into wakefulness.
A/N: Please keep the reviews coming, they fuel my writing!