Boy Who Lived
Part 6—Learning to Live
When he went back to school, Thomas tracked down Minerva and told her everything. Such a full and brutal confession wasn't necessary, but he had felt it needed to be said; that she needed to know, truly, who he was if she intended on pursing him. Her first reaction, naturally, was shock and fear, but she didn't run. A gap formed and lingered for several days as the depth and severity of his confession settled and embedded itself in her mind, but finally she pulled him aside and declared that she fancied him still. They began courting in earnest.
However, Minerva was Head Girl, and between her Head duties and preparing for her N. E. W. T. s, their moments in each other's company felt far too few and brief. In what seemed no time at all, May arrived and with it her graduation. Something not-quite heartbreak plagued them, made them reluctant to release the other's fingers and start taking steps in different directions. There was relief to be found in that Thomas' graduation was only a year behind, even if it felt like a lifetime. Owls carrying thick letters became a common sight at the Holly Copse Cottage. Thomas was happier than he had been in a long time.
It must be said that all too often the case in life is that for every step made forward there are two steps made in the reverse. The road to recovery, no matter what variation of such it may be, is always peppered with bumps and dips and slick mud that can trip up a person.
Perhaps it was simply fate that, in some way or another, Thomas and Harry would always conflict, always end up fighting, despite their likenesses—or perhaps because of those similarities. They could never be fully cooperative or agreeable with one another. While there were no doubts that Harry loved his son, the man's past—or future, as it were—made him paranoid, and in places where it would have been better to be lax, Harry found his responses harsh and overcompensating.
All adolescents rebel against their parents at some point in their lives, argue at least once, no matter how well-loved, no matter how well they get along; and though Tom admired and adored Harry, the fact could not be erased that it was another man and not his father that donated half of Thomas' genetic code. The subject was tender, nearly taboo; a red demon that hid in the shadows of the house and was never spoken of, never looked at; but always there.
In the aftermath, neither Harry nor Thomas would be able to recall just what started their argument, or even what led it to escalate to the level it did. Harry pulled the "I'm the parent here" card, and then it was bubbling up from Tom's stomach, into his mouth and spitting out with the intention to hurt-hurt-hurt—
"You're not even my real father!" Tom screamed. It was the wrong thing to say, a very, very bad thing to say. As soon as the words left his mouth he knew he was going to regret it, wished he could catch the words in the air and shove them back between his lips, but it was too late.
"I'm your father in every way that actually matters!" Harry snarled.
The anger on Harry's face was terrifying, and some primal part of Tom was afraid that his father would lift a hand to him as he did once before. Cornered, injured, afraid of the whiplash that might occur if he bit back, Tom fled.
"Where are you going?" Harry demanded, stomping up the stairs. "Tom! Thomas!"
The young man's bedroom door was ajar. Harry flung the door open just in time to see his son shove something in a messenger bag. Thomas looked up, his eyes dark and rimmed in red.
His form twisted and then vanished with a pop.
Harry swore and hit the heel of his fist against the doorframe. The tension drained from him and his shoulders drooped as he lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop for weeks," came Merope's quiet voice. Harry looked up to see her standing outside the Master bedroom, wringing her hands. She continued, "You two can never go too long without disagreeing about something. You're too alike. But, admittedly, I didn't expect this one to be so," she paused, frowning, and her glasses slid down her nose, "Explosive."
"I'm sorry," he sighed, "It's just… the way he is sometimes, I… I'm a terrible father."
"No, you're a wonderful father," Merope insisted, stepping forward and placing her hands on his forearms, "You do your best by us, you always have. You simply… get passionate when you're angry. I know you have good reasons for denying us things sometimes, like saying it wouldn't be good to go to London one day, or to buy something-or-other, but it's not always easy not being able to know the reasons why. Yes, I know about the Blitz now, but at the time…"
"I'm sorry," Harry murmured, trailing his hands down the insides of her wrists and finally threading their fingers together, "I wish I could tell you both everything, but I can't. I can't—"
"Hush, my love," she said, lifting one hand to caress his cheek, "I know. I do, but Tom doesn't, and for him that makes it harder. Don't go chasing after him right now; give him time to cool down. Knowing him, he'll have gone to Miss McGonagall's home. We can floo them a bit later and check in, alright?"
Harry breathed in slowly, deeply, and nodded, resting his forehead against Merope's and taking comfort in the simple sensation of her body pressed against his.
But when they flooed the McGonagalls that evening, they discovered that Thomas was not there, and Minerva had not heard from him at all since his last letter several days before. Floo-calling Tom's dorm-mates yielded similar results—he wasn't with any of them nor had he contacted any of them. A thread of black dread burrowed and coiled itself up in the Potter couple's hearts. Each member of the Holly Copse Cottage had left an argument and taken a walk, a breather, at some point, but none of them—not Harry, not Merope, not Thomas—had ever simply not come back.
Like any mother, Merope's mind couldn't help but leap to the worst conclusion. So, they immediately set to searching, but where to begin looking? As a mere student, there were few places Thomas could frequent, and fewer still due to that, as a subject and not an employee, Harry was not granted time for vacations. The family had never taken a weekend to visit a French beach or see Stonehedge; it simply was never an option. There was no sight of Tom in Middleton, nor was he in Hogsmeade. Hide or hair of him could not be found Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley, either. And even though it was the middle of the night, the earliest hours of the morning, and London was by-and-large asleep, how could they track him down in the city's old, winding streets and alleys, assuming Thomas was in London at all?
Merope was exhausted and near hysterics by the time Big Ben rung 3am. Feeling defeated, his blood hot with guilt, Harry apparated them home. She immediately went to lie down on the couch while he put the kettle on the stove. He considered sending Midas or an owl to take a letter to Tom, but the thought was dismissed quickly; the mailing system in the 40's was not precise enough to track down a single individual no matter where he or she was. If a person's location was unknown then the delivery bird would not be able to deliver.
At fifteen minutes until 6am, the front door opened with a soft click and Harry and Merope sprang to their feet. It was Tom. Merope threw her arms around him and kissed him all over his face, babbling about how worried she had been, near tears. But, Harry saw, Thomas was unresponsive; his arms slack at his sides and face carefully blank. The black dread that had nested itself in Harry's chest swelled.
"Tom," he began carefully, "What happened?"
The young man lifted his eyes, wondering how his father knew, how he always knew.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, before his expression crumpled and he buried his face in his hands, drawing in a shivering breath. Harry and Merope exchanged a look of alarm before ushering the young man onto the sofa. Merope stroked his face and hair with her hands constantly, trying to get him to look at her, but Tom's eyes remained lowered.
"Where have you been?" she asked. "We looked everywhere for you, Tom, Diagon Ally, Hogsmeade, Middleton, we couldn't find you."
"I went to Little Hangleton." Tom said very quietly.
Harry's eyes slid shut, as if in pain.
Merope's eyebrows rose. "Little Hang… but, why would—"
"I met the Riddles." Tom trembled, his wide eyes staring unblinking and dry at the coffee table. "I killed them."
Harry pursed his lips, and Merope gasped and lifted her hands to her mouth.
"He deserved it! They all deserved it! They were awful and rich and bigoted and-and…" he twined his fingers in his hair and choked on a dry sob, his mouth contorting in agony. "I hate them! And they're dead! I wish I'd never tried to find him! He had my face. I couldn't stand him having my face. I'm not sorry I killed them; I wish I were sorry. I'm a horrible person, I know I am, I know, but please don't hate me, Mum, Papa, please don't hate me, don't send me to Azkaban…"
Merope pulled her son to her, cradling the back of his head as she placed his head in the crook of her neck. "Oh, Tommy. We could never hate you."
Harry was breathing at a controlled pace, mouth pinched. It was clear he was trying to control the outburst that wanted to writhe its way out of his mouth. Finally, he seemed to steady himself and his posture grew impossibly straight, his shoulders thrown back.
"Thomas," Harry said.
Tom pulled his head out of Merope's grasp to look at his father with wet, pained eyes. "I'm sorry." He said.
"This can't go on. This is the last time, Thomas, the last time. I won't do it again. I can't keep doing it."
But Harry wasn't looking at him now; his green eyes were fixated on Merope. "I'm sorry, Merope," he breathed, "If you ever want… if you think I should…"
"No," she replied softly, "I understand."
Harry nodded and vanished with an ear-popping crack.
Thomas stared at the spot Harry had vanished from. "Mum? Mum, what's Papa going to do? What is he doing?"
"Shh, Tommy," she crooned, embracing him, "Harry loves you, Tommy. Your father is going to take care of everything." Tears fell from her eyes and splashed across Tom's shoulder.
The young man felt his stomach drop, his heart skip a beat. "No. No, he can't, he can't! Papa can't take the blame for what I did!"
Merope's hands tightened around his waist. "That's not what he's doing. There's only one wizard in Little Hangleton, and he'll be happy to take credit for their deaths."
Tom went very still as her words settled in his brain. "Your brother. Uncle Morfin."
Her breath was shaky and several more tears fell. In a very small voice she responded, "Yes."
"Papa is going to frame Morfin Gaunt for the Riddle's murders."
"Yes." Her voice cracked.
Gently, so gently, Thomas loosened his mother's hands from around his waist so that he could turn to face her and wrap his arms around her petite form. "Mum. Oh, Mum,"
She clung to him like a lifeline. "I don't know what I feel. Morfin is… Morfin was… There aren't words for Morfin. He means so little and he means so much. Even after all these years… I've never quite been able to bring myself to hate him, but I can't be sure I ever loved him like a sister should, and I can't help but wonder if he ever loved me, ever, if he ever cared about me in some way, even when we were children and innocent—but were we ever innocent? I don't know," she sobbed into Tom's jumper. "I don't know. He's still my brother, still my blood, still… but I—but I…"
"I'm sorry, Mum," he wheezed, "I'm sorry I'm not a better son, a better person. I'm so sorry."
"Shh, love," she said, leaning back until her shoulders rested against the arm of the sofa and Thomas' cheek rested on her abdomen. "It-it'll be okay. Everything will be okay." She was reassuring herself as much as she was Tom.
"Oh, Merlin," he gasped suddenly, "T-they'll never let me be Head Boy now; I—no, never, not after fourth year. No, no, no…"
"They can't deny you the chance to be Head Boy because of this, Tommy. This has nothing to do with school." She squeezed him tighter, helpless to more than hold her son as he fell apart bit-by-bit in her arms. Thomas wanted to be Head Boy more than anything. Merope had no doubt that he would do well in the position, that he would be the best Head Boy Hogwart's had ever had, and that he would grow and strengthen immensely from the experience. But Tom had made mistakes, big mistakes, and those mishaps could all too easily prevent him the opportunity to reach his fullest potential.
She wasn't sure what to feel regarding her brother. Relief? Grief? She couldn't outright claim to possess a great love for Morfin, but he was, nevertheless, her sibling, someone she had grown up with and known for the first 18 years of her life, and there remained a form of twisted, misplaced affection.
She held Thomas more tightly to her, shivering and sniveling, and softly sang an old Irish folk song, intended to comfort herself as much as her son.
"Well your pretty little hands, they can't handle our tackle,
"And your dainty little feet on our topmast can' go,
"An' the cold stormy weather, love, you can't well endure,
"I would have you ashore when the winds they do blow."
She ran her fingers through his hair as she sung, rubbing small circles on the nape of his neck and between his shoulders, and Thomas buried his face in her stomach and finally, finally let the dam break.
By the time Harry made it home it was well into daylight and Merope and Tom were still on the couch, asleep, Thomas cradled between her legs, her hands resting on his shoulder and in his hair. With a heavy heart, Harry gently prodded the two awake.
"Hey," he said softly to Tom, "As much as I'd like to, you're really too old for me to carry up the stairs to bed anymore."
The adolescent blinked slowly, sleepily, his expression soft as his mind drifted out of the fuzzy realm of unconsciousness. All too soon lines of hard, painful guilt scarred the innocent image. He lifted a hand to cover his eyes—a useless, feeble attempt to hide from the world for a moment, however fleeting—and Harry merely smiled sadly.
He looked up at Merope, who was looking at him with wide, melancholy eyes, and kissed her.
Thomas made a strange, sloppy noise, too tired to properly sob.
Morfin's sentence to Azkaban was in the Daily Prophet the next day, the man's planted confession laid out in black and white and over-embellished description. The photograph of Morfin's sneering, proud face was disturbing and frightening. Upon seeing and reading the article, Merope fell into a deafening silence and Harry wished he had the freedom to call in sick to stay home and comfort his wife and son. Thomas, unable to bear the silence—oh, Merlin, the silence—and the oppressing atmosphere it carried, spent the entire day with the radio blaring and pounding on the piano, Midas on his shoulder. When Harry got home, he dropped everything he had and tugged Thomas upstairs and man, wife, and son lay together on the master bed, pulling strength from one another. Tom felt like he had regressed ten years, curled in his mother's lap, Merope herself held in the crook of Harry's arm.
When the day dawned the next morning, the world didn't seem half as grey as it had before, and though a heavy weight still remained on Thomas' chest, he felt like he could now carry it without collapsing. Merope was still asleep and Tom's ear was pressed against her bosom. He sighed and wrapped an arm around her, clinging in a way he hadn't been since he was a mere boy. Midas was perched on the nightstand, watching quietly with big, grey eyes, his feathers bright in the sunlight. Harry was absent, but the smell of cooking sausages and eggs told his location. It was some minutes before Tom finally disentangled himself from his mother's limp, warm embrace, reluctant to face the world, but determined to go on living. The sleeping arrangement quickly became routine; in the night Merope's whimpers were shushed and soothed, Thomas' abrupt awakenings of sedatephobia were calmed by sleepy mumbles and Midas' or Merope's quiet singing.
Harry kept his nightmares to himself: flashes of green—a red haired woman's screams—a black-haired man falling through a draped archway—an old man resembling Father Christmas falling-falling-falling—a long-lost friend's sobs of "I don't know! I DON'T KNOW!"—a white-faced, red-eyed man rising from a steaming cauldron in a graveyard.
In time, Merope finished grieving and Thomas went back to sleeping in his room, though, occasionally, he would wake in the night and creep into his parents' room and slip between them and the safety they provided. Eventually, those nights became rarities too, but the sound of a masterfully played piano and a parrot's note wandering whistling continued to fill the afternoons.
"I've been made Head Boy," Thomas said one day in August, Hogwarts letter and badge clasped in hand. His parents looked over at him. Tom continued. "I'm not sure I should accept it."
Merope frowned worriedly. "Why?"
He licked his lips slowly. "I don't feel like I deserve it."
"Do you want it?" Harry asked over the newspaper.
"I… yes. I want it. But I've done things…"
"Those things don't matter," Harry cut in, "What happened with the Chamber of Secrets was an accident, and the Riddles have nothing to do with school. If you want it, I think you should accept it. I think that you will be good at it, and, more than that, it will be good for you."
Well, he had already hit rock bottom, there was nowhere else to go but up.
Thomas was at his best when he was busy, and being Head Boy certainly kept him busy. There was no time to dwell on past regrets or future worries—aside from the upcoming N. E. W. T. s—and good dreams far outweighed the nightmares and on the occasion when he woke in the night his status gave him the freedom to visit the music room. His natural leadership skills blossomed and fruited as underclassmen came to him seeking solutions to disputes, help on their homework, tutoring, finding lost pets. He took no small amount of pleasure giving detentions to bullies, remembering his own lonely times being pushed about at Middleton Elementary and his Housemates' initially harsh reaction to his blood status.
On some Hogsmeade weekends he was able to meet with Minerva and they would spend the afternoons browsing the bookshop or talking over a hot meal and mulled wine. He didn't tell her about the Riddles, the subject too fresh, too personal. She could tell that something had changed in him, however, and reassured him that she would be there whenever he wanted to talk. He wasn't sure if he ever would.
They explored the forest one weekend in November, the field that would someday host the Shrieking Shack, and their playful banter soon grew into a merry chase. Minerva flitted through the trees, deftly hopping over raised tree roots and rotting logs, her smile wide and eyes bright with laughter as she ran from her younger beau. Thomas lacked her nimbleness, but he was swifter and cleverer by far. He was nevertheless surprised that, when she crashed into him, there was enough force behind her momentum that he was knocked clear off his feet.
He groaned as his back hit the ground, dull pain blossoming from the impact.
Minerva gasped, jerking in his arms. "Oh, are you okay, Tom? I'm sorry!"
He smiled up at her breathlessly. "S'kay. Just knocked the wind out of me. You were really moving, weren't you?"
"Sorry," she smiled teasingly, "Should I kiss it better?"
He smirked back and lifted his head to kiss her, tasting her surprise; clearly, she had not actually expected him to do such.
"Yeah, I feel much better now."
"Oh, you!" She huffed, lightly slapping him on the arm, but there was a Griffindor-red flush on her cheeks and when he laughed she leaned down to silence him with another kiss.
"I think I might love you."
It was a spur-of-the-moment confession, and he wasn't sure where the words came from, so he was a bit surprised to realize that he meant it. She stiffened minutely and raised herself up so that she could look him in the eye.
"Really?" She breathed.
She glowed and positively purred her reply. "Well, that's just swell then."
And it was.
The first snowfall was late in coming that year, but when it finally fell the landscape was covered in a thick, white blanket overnight. The following weeks passed in a whirlwind of ascending good fortune. Come Christmas, Thomas was happier, more whole, than he had been in years despite the crack his soul now bore. With January came the mock N. E. W T. s and O. W. L. s and he found himself doing more tutoring than studying. Of course, he got perfect scores on the mock tests, regardless.
In what seemed to be almost no time at all, it was June. Thomas passed his N. E. W. T. s with flying colors and another award. There was little time to relax or celebrate the end of the testing, as the Graduation Ceremony was a mere two days afterward, so the seventh years could be found fretting and bustling about as they prepared themselves and relished their final days walking Hogwarts' halls. For Tom, nervousness didn't even set in until families began filtering into the Great Hall. The ceiling was clear and blue.
Peering out at the Hall from behind the door of the chamber behind where the Staff Table usually was, Thomas spotted his parents sitting with Minerva. He clutched a slip of parchment—on which was written his farewell speech—in his hand and resumed pacing restlessly, going over his lines in his head and spinning his wand between his fingers
"Will you please stop? You're making me nervous!"
Tom paused and gave a disgruntled glare to the Head Girl: bony, intimidating, Hufflepuff, Augusta Finch.
"Sorry," he said.
"No, you're not," she corrected him, "But it's alright anyway, I suppose. Keep up that pace, though, and you really are going to wear a line in the floor."
He snorted, feeling some of the tenseness in his shoulders evaporate. "In ten minutes? Unlikely."
"You're Thomas Potter. I wouldn't put much of anything past you."
He smirked, the gesture completely and purely Slytherin, but was saved from having to reply by the arrival of Headmaster Dippet. The two soon-to-be alumni took a brief moment to straighten out their appearances before being led to the stage. Long, standing applause greeted them. Tom and Augusta bowed and curtsied in reply accordingly before Augusta stepped up to the podium and made her speech, straight-backed and proud in a way that was uncharacteristic of her House. The applause that followed was thunderous.
As Thomas took his turn to make his speech, Harry and Merope waved, and he took a deep breath and threw his shoulders back, standing tall. The sea of faces watched his with rapt, eager attention. A camera flashed.
Tom began to speak.
"It's amazing to realize that we have made it this far; that I am standing here before you. It seems like a lifetime ago, or perhaps only yesterday, that we walked through those doors as a group of un-Sorted, nervous first years, in awe of the castle around us and concerned that the method used to Sort us into our respective Houses was to wrestle a Troll or some other silly notion. To realize that this is the end is almost surreal.
"My years here at Hogwarts have simultaneously been the best and worst years of my life. There have been monsters in these halls—not only in the form of fantastic beasts, but in the forms of spoken word and rumor mill, in stacks of assigned papers and sleepless nights. There have been points awarded, pride gained; love lost and found again. I've done things that I'm proud of, and I've done things I wish I could go back in time and undo, as I'm sure we all have.
"I don't have words for how honored I am to have served as your Head Boy, how much helping you has helped me, and it fills me with pride to be the one to see the Class of nineteen forty-five off into the world, to have been a part of that class. I will miss seeing you all every day, going to class together, arguing over the breakfast table. I can only send you off with my blessings. I wish you all the best in your journeys outside of these halls. May you all follow and capture your dreams, and live. I know I will."
Notes: As I hope is now evident, the title of this fic does not necessarily refer to Harry. It is meant to doubly imply that the "Boy Who Lived" is Tom, who got to experience family and a loving environment and struggled and persevered regardless, instead of being on his own as he was the first time around. Anyone who wants to write a continuation is welcome to it!
My original plans for Morfin involved him showing up at Holly Copse Cottage and ranting and raving and trying to kill the Potters only to die himself, but the more the story progressed the more I realized I wanted Riddle Sr. to be killed, but to do that and keep Tom out of Azkaban, there had to be someone to lay the blame on, and Morfin was really the only fella who could fit that bill.
The song Merope sings to Tom is "Farewell Lovely Nancy;" I imagine her singing Ed Harcourt's version. It doesn't fit the situation exceedingly well, word-wise, but I greatly enjoy the melody. The song I imagine Tom playing on the piano is "Song of Storms Piano Version" by GameQber. Both songs can be easily found on Youtube.
For anyone wondering: sedatephobia is fear of silence.
Augusta Longbottom's maiden name is not known to canon, but Finch is the surname of the actress that plays her, and there is also Justin Finch-Fletchley, so it could still stand as a pureblood surname. Yes, I totally made Neville's Gran a hardcore-Hufflepuff. Why? Because I'M a hardcore-Hufflepuff!
Yes, it's actually ending here. This is not an epic-length fic that will carry us all the way back to 1998. I'm in the middle of writing a novel, so I wasn't willing to give BWL quite that much attention when I have career-fish to fry. I can't say I'm completely satisfied with Tom, I would have liked to delve into his psyche more and have his struggle be linked more to hereditary mental-illness (namely psychopathy), but I wanted a happy(ish) ending, at least, so I just skimmed the surface and didn't do any deep-sea diving. Does he still have the potential to become Voldemort at this point? I certainly like to think so; personally, I think it would be a life-long struggle (has anyone read Niger Aquilla's "Rectifier"? I picture it a little bit like that).
Thank you all so much for your wonderful reviews, for taking the time to read and enjoy this, I can't express with words just how much I appreciate it. Do keep an eye out for future fics of mine, yes?
Happy reading, loves!
Megii of Mysteri OusStranger