BB 28 – Auld Lang Syne
It was a great effort to see the rest of the day through, but Harry did, for Ron and Hermione's sake. They deserved a good Christmas. He even agreed to have Christmas dinner in the Great Hall with them. The food was excellent, and everyone who had stayed for the holidays sat together at the Ravenclaw table. Everyone, Harry noticed, except Malfoy. He had left the Marauders' Map in the dormitory, at Hermione's request, but he was certain that Malfoy would be nowhere to be seen. They'd sat at the very end of the long table to give themselves some space and privacy, and a quick escape route for Harry if he wanted to leave.
Recent events had bestowed Harry with the ability to switch off completely whenever he found himself in an overwhelming situation. Whenever he expected to break down, he instead became almost catatonic, like someone else had taken over control of his body for a while to keep it safe. He felt Voldemort's whispering voice at his ear more than once, but was able to push it gently away without really knowing how. He was managing to actually enjoy himself. The ghosts were flitting gracefully about the hall singing soft carols, and extra candles were lighting the otherwise pitch-black ceiling. Ron had read aloud his Christmas card from his brother, Charlie, describing all his most recent close calls with dragons, and Hermione had tried to teach Harry and Ron a spell she'd learnt for making origami snowflakes, and they'd all laughed uncontrollably at Ron's failed attempt, which looked more like a dented snowball. The only giveaway of any weakness in Harry was the small gold ring being twirled around in his fingers throughout the meal.
A quick scan of the Marauders' Map back in the dormitory told Harry that his suspicions had been correct; Malfoy had left the castle again. Where could he be going for hours at a time without anyone noticing? He placed the map on his bedside table, intending to check it again in an hour's time, but he fell asleep almost the instant his head hit the pillow.
"Harry… finally. You're here. I've missed you." Voldemort was right in front of him, staring hungrily at Harry, whose feet seemed to be glued to the ground. "Let me see you." Voldemort was coming closer, Harry tried to take a step back, but his body wouldn't obey him. Was he dreaming? He screwed his eyes shut, but could feel the power of his lover surround him like a heady smoke. "Yes, Harry. This is what you want? Isn't it?" Strong, warm arms enclosed Harry's body and he felt himself weaken.
"What is it Harry? Is this not enough? Did you want to feel more?" Voldemort pulled back, loosening his hold on Harry.
"This, this is only a dream."
"No Harry. You're here, with me, this is real."
"No, you're lying." Harry struggled to speak, his fear and longing together were rendering him incapable of holding onto a thought long enough to process it. He was trying desperately to work out what was happening, to get out of it, but the familiar smell and feel of Voldemort's body was disabling him.
"Do you dream about me, Harry?" A cool hand brushed his cheek. "Tell me, what do you dream?" Harry was breathing heavily now and trying to ignore what Voldemort was saying so that he could focus on waking up. He didn't want to dream this, didn't want to feel this again. "Do you dream of this?" Voldemort kissed him, softly, his hand now firmly on the back of Harry's head to keep it in place.
Then finally, he was out of the dream and back in bed, in a nice large and comfortable bed where he could rest.
"Sleep Harry, I'll look after you."
No, wait, he couldn't rest while Voldemort was here. But the blankets were pinning him tightly to the bed and he couldn't move.
"It's ok Harry, stop fighting it, I'm not going to hurt you. I love you."
On Boxing Day, Ron managed to convince Harry to practice some Quidditch in-between his study sessions with Hermione. He felt shaky on his feet as he prepared to kick off from the ground, but as soon as he was in the air his body felt stronger. It had been so long since he'd flown, the freedom of it overwhelmed him and made him feel slightly light-headed. It was strange to consider that he might be able to re-join the Quidditch team once term resumed, but doing things that he'd loved before everything that had happened made him feel like he was healing something inside him, something that could be erased by recreating a happier time. Ron wanted to practice his Keeping skills so Harry played Chaser for awhile.
"Not bad Harry, you could play Chaser too!"
"Harry." Harry swayed on his broom and had to grip it tightly to prevent him from slipping off.
"Don't do this to me Harry." Harry could still faintly feel his frozen fingers on his broom, but he could no longer see the Quidditch pitch or his friends. "Don't do this to yourself. You need me; no one else can understand you the way I do." He was staring into the fire in his old room in Voldemort's manor. The heat was so welcome, his hands were so cold… "Let me hold you again. I know you want to come home Harry, please, come back to me. Harry. Harry!" The soft voice became more insistent, and then it was a scream…
His face was inches from the frozen ground, an invisible shield preventing his spread-eagled body from landing. He could hear Hermione screaming his name in the distance, and crunching footsteps in the snow beside him.
"… Nothing physically wrong with him. This really isn't my area of expertise Dumbledore, he needs…"
With depressed resignation, Harry sat up in the hospital bed.
"Harry, what happened?" Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey were all standing by his bedside looking extremely concerned. Harry was too tired to explain.
"I must have slipped off my broom."
"Don't be silly Harry. We've all seen you fly countless times. We know you didn't just fall. You had a vision didn't you?"
He wanted to glare at her but simply nodded.
"Was it him, Harry?"
"It's always him," he spat bitterly, and knew Ron and Hermione were exchanging looks.
"Miss Granger, Mr Weasley, I think Mr Potter could do with some rest." Dumbeldore's tone left no room for argument.
"These visions Harry, how frequently do they occur?"
"I don't know, they stopped for awhile, but last night I had a dream, and then today I don't know what happened, I was just playing Quidditch with Ron, but then suddenly I was… somewhere else."
"Professor, do you think he knows that I can see him?"
"I think it is entirely possible. His attempt to take the prophecy certainly suggests that he is trying to understand the connection you have."
"Harry. In these visions, is he asking you to go back to him?"
"And do you want to?"
God yes he wanted to, he yearned for the simplicity of not being in control, he craved the warmth of Voldemort's body with him in bed at night, he missed their walks by the river, missed feeling the hum of power from Voldemort's skin, the sound of that cold voice saying his name with such warmth, Voldemort's soothing touch… Even with the attentiveness of his friends he could not shake off the loneliness that churned in his chest.
But he had to keep reminding himself that it wasn't like that, not really. He'd be going back to lies, manipulation, cruelty, torture, fights, and fear. For some reason those memories were harder to access than the happy ones. And what about the prophecy? If what Dumbledore told him was true, then it was impossible for them to exist together.
But the ring, what did it mean? Was it meant to cause him pain, or was it Voldemort's confused idea of a thoughtful gift?
Dumbledore's heart ached seeing Harry go through exactly what he had. He wouldn't wish that pain on anyone, but he'd been an adult, and Harry was still just a boy. But he had friends that could help him get through it. Dumbledore awaited Harry's answer nervously.
"He makes me want to. But I know I can't."
"What you're going through isn't easy Harry, recovering from something like this is immensely painful. But you will find that eventually, you will start to piece your life back together. However, these visions will only hinder you. If you continue to have them Harry, you must let me know. I may be able to help you."
He gratefully accepted a dreamless sleep potion from Madam Pomfrey, relieved to be able to switch off the visions and voices for a while.
He returned to the common room later that day and strode straight past Ron and Hermione into the dormitory. He knew they were concerned, but if he told them what was happening to him then any normality they were managing to simulate would be destroyed. He wished he hadn't told Dumbledore, what if they took him back to hospital?
He checked the Marauder's Map. It didn't seem as though Ron and Hermione were going to follow him, for which he was immensely thankful. Once again, Malfoy was nowhere to be seen, and this time, neither was Dumbledore.
Voldemort was through with being weak; he wouldn't waste his time pining for Harry when he should be figuring out a way to get him back. He knew he could, he was so close… And he knew Harry was tempted, he could feel the longing, as powerful as his own, in the visions that he had sent Harry. He could not sustain them for long, but clung to the memory of each minute that he was in Harry's mind. He finally felt close to Harry again in those moments, felt the pressure ease from his chest, felt his head clear and skin awaken. No one else could make him feel like this, only Harry could. He had some power over him that neither of them could explain. But Voldemort needed to explain it; only by understanding their connection fully could he make use of it the way he needed to. He put his misery aside and launched himself into trying to find out more about his connection with Harry. Sometimes it seemed easier than others, at night when Harry was asleep was the easiest time, and he tried to visit him every night, but then he would lose his hold on the vision and it would slip away, leaving him exhausted and in need of recuperation, and he would have to wait a few hours before trying again. But every day it grew easier to spend more and more time with the connection, became easier to manipulate the visions and control his words, and soon, with the help of the Malfoy boy, he knew he would be able to carry out his plan.
The visions were becoming more vivid and more frequent. There seemed to be constant white noise in Harry's head, making it impossible for him to focus on the revision that Hermione was forcing on him and making him even more short-tempered with her and Ron. He didn't dare fly again; another vision whilst on the broom was too risky, and if Hermione didn't react so quickly the second time… He spent as much time as possible alone in the dormitory or sitting beside the Great Lake watching the water. There, no one noticed if he slipped in and out of reality. He was getting too tired to fight it, he could feel it begin like a mist forming around him, and he would simply close his eyes and let it wash over him. He couldn't stop Voldemort, the man was far too powerful, and it was pointless to try to fight it. He began to resign himself to the fact that he would have to return to Voldemort. He couldn't live like this… constantly plagued by visions, never letting him forget. And he knew that as soon as he set foot outside Hogwarts, Voldemort would be able to find him. He would never leave Harry alone, never stop trying to find him, and Harry didn't want to stop him.
And then Harry would reach up to his chest where he felt the golden ring, hung from a chain around his neck, and he would feel a sudden surge of hatred and fury that would change his mind all over again. How could he even be considering going back? How could he leave his caring and patient friends for a man that thought this sick trophy was a romantic gift? How could he give up Hogwarts and his whole life for a murderer, someone who took pleasure in torture, the man who killed his parents and left him an orphan, who had tried to kill him on numerous occasions, and would still be trying to had his spell not backfired and left him burdened with real emotions? He was a weak fool. He was in denial. The prophecy made it clear exactly what kind of relationship he and Voldemort were destined to have. One of them would have to kill the other, and Harry vowed that it would be him.
Harry woke on New Year's Eve feeling more rested than he had since before he had returned to Hogwarts. For the first time in days, he hadn't had one single dream or vision during the night and had slept right through. The dull fog that had filled his head since Christmas had begun to lift, and Hermione and Ron looked at him in shock when he came down the dormitory stairs smiling and suggested they go down to breakfast together. Hermione beamed at him and ordered Ron to get dressed immediately.
He wolfed down platefuls of breakfast, properly tasting the food, and smiled and laughed with Ron and Hermione. He even managed to get some revision done, much to Hermione's delight.
"I really think you're on track you know, Harry. Definitely more so than Ron," she assured him, causing Ron to sulk for the next couple of hours until she offered him some of her leftover Honeydukes chocolate from Christmas.
They went for a long walk around the grounds, and stopped off to have tea and cake with Hagrid. Once back in the warmth of the castle, they sat around the fire in the common room playing wizards' chess until it was time for dinner. Harry didn't hear so much as a whisper from Voldemort all day. He felt free, and human, and able to actually enjoy himself. At times, it almost felt as though nothing had changed between them, like he'd never been gone.
They had been playing exploding snap in the common room, letting the large dinner they had had go down before bed, when Hermione turned to Harry.
"Are you going to tell us what happened?" she asked casually.
Harry stared at her in shock for a few moments as she continued to deal out the cards as if nothing had happened. Ron looked decidedly awkward and suddenly became very interested in the patterns on the back of the cards.
"Yes," said Harry, "Just, not yet. Soon, I promise. I just can't yet."
Neither of them were looking at him.
"I think I'll go to bed now, it's been a long day."
"But it's not even midnight yet!"
"I know, sorry, happy New Year both of you."
They both wished him a happy New Year, Hermione looking deeply regretful. Harry didn't resent her for her question, despite it being ill timed. He was well aware of the amazing patience they had both shown to him.
He took a quick look at the Marauder's map, and noted with surprise that Malfoy was actually in the Slytherin common room and Dumbledore was in his office. Everything was as it should be, and Harry slipped easily into sleep, finally not having to be afraid of succumbing to whispering voices.
His skin was tingling all over, his lover was right beside him, easily within reach. Warm arms enveloped him, and he didn't bother to resist. He expected the arms to stay wrapped around him, for Voldemort's soothing voice to beg for Harry to come to him, and he was prepared to let it all happen. But Voldemort pulled away quickly and grasped Harry's arms firmly. "Harry," he said seriously, "I need you to listen to me very carefully. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded. What was going on?
"I'm here, in the castle. I need to speak to you. Will you come to me?"
Harry nodded again, bewildered. "But how did you…"
"I will explain when you get here. Listen carefully Harry because I can't stay long. There is a room on the seventh floor, no one else knows about it. Opposite the tapestry there is a blank wall, you must walk past it three times, and think only of meeting me inside. Do you understand? It will open for you. Three times, and you must only think that you need to meet me. Come to me now."
Voldemort planted a quick kiss on Harry's forehead and then was gone.
He woke in a cold sweat. It couldn't be real, it couldn't be real… But this was Voldemort, this was no dream, Voldemort had managed to get inside the castle, in a magical room that no one knew about. Perhaps even Dumbledore did not know it existed, perhaps he wouldn't be able to protect Harry there, perhaps the apparition rules didn't apply in this room and Voldemort could whisk Harry away right under Dumbledore's nose. What would happen if Harry didn't go? Would Voldemort venture out into the castle? He could feel the presence of his lover in the air around him and his scar was tingling. He knew he had to go.
The closer he got to the seventh floor the more he could feel the pull of Voldemort's magic. Soon he would be in the presence of it again. Soon he would have to make his choice.
There he was; his lover, his tormenter, his Master. He stood tall in the centre of the room and looked at Harry almost cautiously.
The sound of Voldemort's real voice in the same room overwhelmed him and he inhaled deeply, trying to regain some the air that had been knocked out of him.
"Yes." Harry's mouth was dry. He was struggling to believe that Voldemort was really there with him. Voldemort was keeping his distance, but Harry already felt suffocated by his closeness. He swayed a little on his feet causing Voldemort's expression to change to one of concern.
"Are you alright?"
"No, I…" Harry looked at the floor and screwed his eyes shut, he couldn't breathe. Voldemort looked extremely concerned but didn't come any closer.
"I'm not here to hurt you. I had hoped that you would be happy to see me."
"I am, I think. I don't know. I can't breathe."
"I feel it too Harry. It's our connection. It's strong."
"It's too strong," Harry said breathlessly, tears beginning to roll down his face. His legs were quivering from the effort of staying upright under the weight of the loaded air.
"Let me help you." Voldemort began to slowly move towards him, as if he was a wild animal that might startle and run away. He wanted to, but his legs didn't have the power. What did this man do to him? He felt like he was in terrible danger, and finally at home at the same time.
Voldemort stopped once he was a few feet away, and looked pleadingly at Harry.
"Come to me."
Harry stumbled forwards and crashed into Voldemort's arms, he grabbed hold of the man's robes and pressed his body full against him. His lover was ready for him, and held him firmly upright against his body, guiding his chin up tenderly before plunging into a strong kiss.
"I knew you'd come," whispered Voldemort triumphantly as he smiled down at Harry. "It's going to be ok now, Harry." They stood together, just holding each other, for several minutes before Harry stepped back.
"No it's not."
"I don't understand." The sharpness suddenly present in Voldemort's eyes nearly took away the last of Harry's courage.
"I'm not coming back with you."
"Harry, you need me. You know you do. I will protect you, I will never let you down again I swear to you, but you have to come with me."
"Yes you will. I miss you, I love you, but I know who you are. I know you don't understand love, and you never will. You proved that to me with this." He held out his parents' wedding ring.
"I know you got rid of my cloak. I wanted you to have something to remind you of me."
"I do have something," Harry retorted wildly, gesturing to his scar, "This reminds me of you, every day since I found out you gave it to me. That's the you I should be remembering."
"Harry please don't do this, perhaps the gift was ill-considered, but I'm new to all this. I've never felt like this before, but all that matters is that I feel it now, and I want to get to know it, and I know that you're the only one who can show me this world. Please Harry, I can't do this alone."
"It's impossible for us to be together, this thing between us was never supposed to happen."
"You don't know that."
"I do!" Harry yelled. "We're so wrong for each other, there's even a prophecy that keeps us apart!"
"Harry, I'm freely giving you the power to vanquish me, but I trust you. So what if you have the power to vanquish me? You don't want to. The prophecy is irrelevant."
"You don't understand! You don't know the rest of it!" Harry suddenly felt that he had said too much, but it was too late to stop now, Voldemort would get it out of him somehow. "Dumbledore told me everything." Voldemort visibly bristled at the mention of Dumbledore's name.
"You know what it says? He told you?" For a moment, curiousity overtook the desperate look in Voldemort's eyes, and something changed in the air that made Harry feel incredibly uneasy.
"Yes." Harry took a deep breath and looked Voldemort in the eye. "It says that neither one of us can live while the other survives, and that one of us must die at the hand of the other."
"You're lying," Voldemort hissed angrily.
"You know I'm not."
Voldemort seemed stunned into silence.
"That changes things for you doesn't it? You love me, you care about me, but there's a limit to what you'd risk for me, and your life is just too precious to you, more precious to you than I am."
"So you want us to fight again? Is that it?" Voldemort's voice was so cold Harry felt that he might start attacking him in that very moment.
"I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen. I just know we can't be together."
Harry could no longer look into the eyes that were boring into him, he was feeling fear again, the deep, paralyzing fear that Voldemort hadn't made him feel for a long time. He wanted to hold the man one last time, but he felt the barrier that seemed to have forced it's way between them.
He could feel Voldemort glaring at him even as he turned and walked out of the room.
The flames of love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet heart now grown so cold,
that loving breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine,
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.