Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
When Harry came out of his closet that day, it was with Tom's advice sounding loudly in his ears. Never show them your fear, the spirit had counseled. Never show weakness. It sounded hard. It sounded impossible. Harry didn't necessarily want to show fear or weakness, after all, but how could he not cry when he was being struck? How could he not be afraid of his Uncle's wrath? But Tom had said... Tom had said... I will handle it when next you are struck, with a kind of cold certainty that made Harry shiver.
Tom was a murderer. Tom was a monster. Tom didn't pretend to be anything but. Harry couldn't help but wish that when he said that he would 'handle it', he meant that he would kill Uncle Vernon, and that thought made him feel a little sick. Hating like that... he shouldn't do it. It was bad, and wrong.
~They've earned your hatred, child,~ Tom murmured and sent a burst of warmth in Harry's direction.
Harry relaxed a bit as he moved to the fridge and began removing the ingredients for breakfast. Sausage and bacon and pancakes were listed on the fridge for the morning's food, and Harry began to prepare them with a speed that came from familiarity. This was routine, this was the rhythm of the morning, this he was used to. It was comforting in its routine, and he relaxed entirely as he stood at the stove flipping the meats and the pancakes.
Uncle Vernon arrived at the table first, and Harry set his plate out for him and moved swiftly out of the way. Staying within range of Uncle Vernon's fists was never a good idea. Never, not even when he wasn't in any kind of trouble. No matter what Tom promised, Harry wasn't willing to test that just yet.
~I don't blame you for that. You've been hurt quite a lot for your young years,~ the spirit within his head murmured.
Harry couldn't suppress a smile. For a murderer, Tom was awfully nice to him.
"What're you smiling about, freak?" Dudley asked, as he thumped into his seat. At five, as fat as he was and as short as he was, he looked like nothing so much as a beach ball and Harry fought down the urge to say just that. He knew exactly how that conversation would go and that it would end in another thrashing. He was recovered from the last but that didn't mean he was ready to court another so soon. So he bit his lip and settled Dudley's plate in front of him.
~What did I promise you, child? I will handle it should anything happen. Go on, say what you're thinking,~ Tom encouraged.
Harry glanced warily at his Uncle, then said quietly, "I was thinking that you looked like a beach ball." And then, horrified by his own nerve, he turned back to the stove as though he hadn't just said it and heard Uncle Vernon's fork clatter against his plate. He could hear Aunt Petunia moving about upstairs, no doubt putting her face together, and settled her plate in its spot before turning back to the stove once more. Maybe if he acted like he hadn't...
No such luck. "What did you just say, Boy?" Uncle Vernon shouted, and Harry didn't have to turn to know that his Uncle was already going purple in the face. Really, the man was at a very unhealthy weight, he should watch his temper or he might have a heart attack. Even Harry knew that being that weight wasn't healthy or safe.
~So tell him so,~ Tom suggested. Harry's eyes widened at the thought. Sassing off directly to Uncle Vernon? That was... that was suicide. Uncle Vernon would kill him, and rightfully so. He was just a burden, a useless freak that took their valuable money and gave them nothing back for it. He should be ashamed at even thinking anything ill of his Aunt and Uncle, he should apologize, beg for forgiveness, not be so awful towards his cousin, towards his Uncle that he need to be punished. It was all his fault. ~No!~
Tom's shout hurt Harry's head, and he flinched from it. ~No, child,~ Tom continued, more gentle than he had now that he had the boy's attention. ~They are the ones in the wrong. You are well within your rights to hate them, to want them to hurt. There isn't a soul in the universe that could blame you for wanting revenge on them for the appalling way in which you've been treated.~
Harry's hands were frozen over the skillet as he considered what Tom was saying. Eventually, the smell of burning food reached his nose and he automatically turned off the heat before the contents of the skillet could burn further. Not that Dudley would care, the pig would probably eat it anyway. More importantly... he was allowed to hate the Dursleys? That didn't... that didn't make sense. He should be grateful. They'd given him a home, they'd given him clothing, they'd fed him...
~They give you the scraps from their table they wouldn't feed a dog! The clothing they give you isn't fit for washrags, and still you defend them? Child, you are far too good for this Earth,~ Tom murmured. And then, after a moment's consideration, added, ~And possibly far too good for the conversation I must have with your Uncle. Very well then, time to attempt an experiment.~
Harry felt something shoving against the back of his mind, like something pushing on his head. He struggled against the alien feeling, closing his eyes and fighting it. "Stop it," he whispered, raising one shaking hand to his forehead. His scar was suddenly burning and felt like it was about to split open. A drop of blood spattered on the tiled floor that he'd spent so much time wiping down last night. He didn't like this at all.
~Just let it happen, child. Relax yourself, let me into your mind,~ Tom murmured, and Harry stopped fighting the shoving feeling.
Immediately his view shifted, and it was as though he was looking over his own shoulder. It was a strange thing to see, and he blinked and shook his head to clear it. But his head didn't move at all, making Harry just a bit dizzy.
~Wh-what happened?~ he asked, only to have his lips not move and his voice sound in echoes within his own head.
"Answer me, you little freak! What did you say about my son?" Uncle Vernon roared, and Harry flinched in fear within his mind. Uncle Vernon was angry, and Harry wanted to fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness. It wouldn't help, but he wanted to do it just the same. And now he wasn't even in control of his own body and there was nothing he could do.
~We've switched places,~ Tom murmured. ~Now hush, child, and allow me to demonstrate the proper handling of a beast such as your Uncle.~
Harry's body moved then, jerkily stepping down from the footstool he used to reach the stove. "You should watch your temper, Muggle scum," Harry's voice crooned, in the same sickening tone Tom had used with Harry when they'd first spoken last night.
"What did you just call me?" Uncle Vernon bellowed, raising one hand as though intending to strike.
Harry felt something within him stretch, and then his own hand was reaching out and squeezing into a fist in the air, and Harry could feel something connecting squeezing into something as well. After a heartbeat of consideration, he thought maybe it felt like a fist closed around a fluttering bird. Uncle Vernon went white, dropped to his knees clutching desperately at his chest.
"You should watch your temper, Muggle," Tom said in the most cool, unaffected tone that Harry had ever heard. "You're dangerously overweight, I wouldn't want you to have a heart attack," he continued. He went over to the table, took Aunt Petunia's still-untouched plate of food from it and began walking towards Harry's cupboard. "I think you'll find that I'm not quite the same as I've always been. You would do well to have a care with your treatment of me from now on, Uncle," Tom added, just before closing the door to the cupboard behind them. Harry felt something else swell within him, a burst of energy just as the door closed, heard Tom muttering something softly, but before he could ask Tom was hastily setting the food on the neatly-made cot and then...
...and then Harry felt something within him release and suddenly he was back in control of his own body and he was going limp, falling to his knees, entire body trembling with exhaustion. "What did you do?" he whispered, horrified.
~Don't worry, child, he'll be fine. But he should think twice before treating us in such a way again,~ Tom answered, sounding incredibly satisfied with himself.
"You took... you took food from them! They'll..."
~They'll do nothing. And you need to eat. We just used a lot of energy with that stunt.~ Tom spoke matter-of-factly, and Harry could feel his stomach rumbling at the smell of the food. It probably didn't help that he hadn't had dinner last night... or lunch or breakfast for that matter. So yes, he was very hungry. ~Monsters,~ Tom grumbled in the back of his mind. ~Go on and eat, before one of them gets the idea to try and come after you.~
"What do you mean, try?" Harry asked. He moved carefully towards his cot, for once very grateful that his cupboard was so small. It meant that he didn't have to try and stand, he could just shift over a bit and there was food, right within his reach. Never mind that he could barely hold his fork up, much less the plate. He ate slowly and carefully, trying not to just gobble it all down. He didn't want to sick it back up, after all.
Tom was chuckling darkly in his head. ~I meant exactly what I said, before one of them gets the idea to try. The door won't open for them, not any longer. That last burst of magic? I was warding the door. So good luck to them, trying to get in here to punish you. They won't be able to enter until we're ready for them to do so.~ Tom's laugh took on an even more sinister tone. ~In fact, I kind of hope that they do try. They'll enjoy the surprise I've left for them.~
And by them enjoying it, Harry had no doubt that Tom actually meant that he would. The sinister wording left no illusions; Tom had done something awful to Harry's door. But... but magic? Tom... no, Uncle Vernon said that there was no such thing as magic.
But once Tom was finished speaking, there was a loud banging on the closet door. "Why won't this blasted door open?" Harry heard Uncle Vernon snarl, and then there was a bright flash of red light and the sound of something thudding against the far wall.
~Next time, it won't take nearly so long for the wards to kick in,~ Tom murmured. And exactly as he said, the doorknob rattled once more, and then there was another flash of light followed by a high pitched shriek that Harry recognized as belonging to his Aunt followed by another thud.
Harry finished his food, feeling safe and secure for the first time ever in his young life. Even if he didn't know what Tom had done or how he'd done it, "Thank you, Tom," he whispered, once he'd swallowed the last piece of bacon. He was a little thirsty, but was too contented to worry about it just then.
~You need to sleep now,~ Tom whispered, and Harry nodded. His eyelids were heavy; he could barely stand to keep them open. ~No, no, I need you to get up and into the bed. You may be young, but your body still won't thank you for sleeping in such an awkward position.~
Harry yawned and struggled to his feet, and then managed to collapse into the bed. The threadbare blanket was trapped beneath him, but he hardly felt its lack. "Why'm I so..." he paused to yawn, and then continued with, "tired?"
~It's the magic use,~ Tom responded. ~You're far too young for me to be using your powers in such a way, and I'll have to be far more careful in the future. The ward I cast was a bit too strong, much stronger than what was necessary. I'll remember that for next time. I apologize~
Harry smiled sleepily. "S'okay," he muttered, and then he knew no more as his eyes finally slipped shut and he lost his battle with wakefulness.
Harry came back to himself with a feeling of sleepy, warm contentment. He hummed softly curled in on himself, and fought waking up. It was so nice to be able to wake slowly, to be able to just lay still and not have to worry about getting up, about making breakfast, about being hungry... he just wasn't ready to move just yet, that was all. And who could blame him?
~There's not a soul out there that could,~ Tom said. ~However, I am of the opinion that you should rouse yourself soon. Your bladder is going to explode if you don't, and I'd imagine you're also very thirsty.~ He sounded like he was laughing, and Harry thought that maybe he would sometime soon be able to get used to the feeling of Tom laughing in his head. It was a nice feeling.
But still... now that Tom had mentioned it, "That was mean, Tom," Harry muttered. He could feel the pressure of his bladder, now, and the scratchiness of his throat. He was thirsty, maybe thirsty enough to drink a whole liter of water... probably not. That would be a lot of water. Either way, his feeling of contentment was rapidly diminishing.
~My apologies,~ Tom answered, sounding anything but apologetic.
Harry grumbled as he slipped out of bed. His knees were still a bit shaky, but it was nowhere near as bad as it had been when he'd gone to sleep. It seemed more like the floppiness of finally getting enough sleep after who knew how long. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd been allowed to sleep as long as he wanted to. He owed Tom a lot, he thought, and didn't know how he could begin repaying the spirit.
~You owe me... actually, yes, let's go with that,~ Tom said smugly. ~And you can start repaying me by getting yourself to the bathroom before you make a mess of yourself.~ And with that charming thought, Tom fell silent within Harry's mind.
Harry paled at the thought and slipped from the cupboard, for once not even remembering to check and see if any of the Dursleys were nearby. They weren't, thank God, and Harry crept along until he made it to the bathroom. He couldn't hear anybody within the house, and thought that maybe they'd left for the day. What time was it, anyway?
~You were asleep for a little over a day,~ Tom responded. ~I would have woken you sooner, but you really did need the rest. I overdid it more than I'd thought I had,~ and now the apology in his voice was genuine, and Harry couldn't help but smile.
"It's okay," he whispered shyly, even as he closed the bathroom door behind him. "I don't... I don't mind. You were only trying to help, after all."
He went over to the toilet, then, and pulled down his pants and... couldn't. He flushed, because even though his bladder was uncomfortably full, he couldn't make himself... not with Tom there and awake and watching and... ~I'm not looking,~ Tom protested, laughing. ~I don't really have any interest in your bodily functions, child!~
Harry closed his eyes, and tried to imagine that Tom wasn't there and hadn't just been talking to him and he was alone and it was okay. And then, relieved, he flushed the toilet and pulled up his pants and washed his hands. "Hopefully that will get easier," he muttered, still blushing. It was hard not to forget that Tom was there, and Harry wasn't looking forward to going through that litany every time he had to relieve himself. The whole thing was a bit embarrassing.
And somewhat daunting, now that he stopped to think about it. Tom would always be there. When Harry got the chance to take a bath? Tom would be there. When Harry needed to use the restroom? Tom would be there. When Harry was older and maybe met a girl? Tom would be there. He would see everything, know everything, be there for every part of Harry's life. It was a terrifying thought, now that Harry was allowing himself to think it.
~I could try and go back to sleep,~ Tom offered. There was an edge to his voice, though, a sort of bitterness that left a sharp tang in Harry's mouth.
"No!" Harry protested, knowing that just wasn't an option. "You can't, please, don't leave me alone again," he begged, knees giving out at the thought of being left alone by Tom. "I can't do this on my own, not anymore," he babbled, back pressed against the cold tile of the bathroom wall. His eyes blurred with tears at the very thought, and he tried his hardest to fight them off. Tom didn't like it when he cried, said that crying was a sign of weakness, and that Harry shouldn't be weak. But Harry was afraid that he was weak without Tom there, and the thought of being alone again... Harry just couldn't.
He felt that warm, safe, wonderful feeling welling up within him once more. ~I'm not intending on going anywhere, child,~ Tom crooned. ~I shouldn't have said that. It was an idle threat.~
Harry sagged in relief at the gently spoken reassurance, let his head thump gently against the wall. "Thank you," he whispered, unable to speak any louder than that for the choking in his voice.
They sat in silence for several moments, then, Harry relishing the warmth that Tom somehow wrapped around him, and Tom simply allowing it. Eventually, though, Harry's dry throat and rumbling stomach called him back to the real world, and he struggled to his feet once more.
"Are the Dursleys even here?" he asked as he made his way to the kitchen. He poured himself a tall glass of water and guzzled it down before refilling it and setting it at the table.
~What makes you think that I know?~ Tom asked. Or care, his tone added. Harry settled himself at the table and sipped at his water. His chore list, normally posted on the front of the fridge, was surprisingly absent. Harry marvelled over that before Tom bit out, ~And aren't you going to eat something?~
Take food from the Dursleys? He was already going to be in so much trouble for the stunt that he'd pulled yester... wait... no, Tom wasn't going to let them hurt him. He could... he absolutely could go and take food. In fact, Harry was pretty sure that Tom would be more angry if he didn't take food.
~Yes, Harry, that's correct,~ Tom muttered. ~You need to make sure that you eat regularly. You're far too thin for a child of your age, and magic requires a lot of energy. If you aren't eating regularly, I won't be able to cast to protect you, and I won't be able to teach you everything you need to know.~ There was that word again. Magic. But magic wasn't real, Uncle Vernon had said. And Aunt Petunia agreed with him, and why would they lie? But they had lied, a little voice whispered inside of him, and Harry pushed it away. Food!
"Then... I guess I should go make a sandwich!" Harry said brightly, tickled at the thought. He'd never made himself a sandwich before. For Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon and Dudley, yes, but never just for himself. He was lucky most of the time if he got a slice of bread, much less two with something on them as well.
He felt a hint of the murderous rage he'd felt before from Tom that vanished in the face of his rather childlike delight at the thought of being able to make a sandwich. It was nice to know that he could affect Tom as well as Tom being able to affect him, even if Tom probably didn't like to think about it that way.
It only took him a few minutes to prepare the sandwich in question, and Harry settled himself back at the table and stared at it for a few minutes. It looked too good to eat! Bread, and meat, and cheese, and veggies, and a tall glass of milk to go with his tall glass of water... it was a feast! He couldn't possibly eat it, it was too nice looking to...
~Would you just eat, child?~ Tom asked, exasperated.
And Harry laughed before taking a bite of his sandwich. It was every bit as delicious as it had looked, too.
He was just finishing up his sandwich when his Aunt and Uncle both came through the door, which was odd because it was a workday. Uncle Vernon should still have been at Grunnings, definitely. There were still a few crumbs on his plate, and Harry was chasing them with his finger and contemplating going for another sandwich, even though he wasn't really hungry and couldn't actually imagine eating anything more, when they walked into the kitchen.
Uncle Vernon saw him sitting at the table, the empty plate before him, and the crumbs on the empty plate, and his face turned purple. "Just what do you-"
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia hissed, and elbowed her husband sharply in the gut. "We talked about this," she continued, eyeing Harry meaningfully.
Uncle Vernon subsided, but didn't stop glowering at Harry. "I don't like it, Pet," he muttered.
"Neither do I, but the freak's capable of just about anything. We don't want... we don't want to be hurt," she whispered back, sounding as though she were trying to be brave.
"I can hear you, you know," Harry pointed out when Tom prompted him to do so. "And you aren't endearing yourselves to me at all right now." Actually, it was kind of funny to hear them being so afraid of him, like he still was of them, and that made him feel bad. He shouldn't be happy that others were suffering.
~You should be happy that these pitiful examples of Muggle filth are suffering,~ Tom protested. ~They deserve every bit of suffering I can cause, and then some more for good measure. What monsters, to mistreat a child in such a way. Even at my darkest, I never would have dreamed of mistreating a child.~
"No, you just left them orphaned and alone," Harry shot back, and then went white. He shouldn't have said that, and definitely not aloud judging by the puzzled looks on Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's faces. Tom was going to be so angry. He was going to leave again. He was...
He was... laughing? ~Touche, my dear child,~ Tom chuckled. ~I don't even have an appropriate argument for that.~
"What are you talking about b- Harry?" Uncle Vernon asked through gritted teeth.
"Just talking to myself," Harry answered, and hopped down from his chair. He took his plate and two glasses over to the sink and rinsed all three off before popping them into the dish rack to dry. He slipped from the room, then, and was over at his cupboard door before either Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon could think of a response.
He'd only just opened it when he heard Aunt Petunia shout, "Wait!" and his hand froze on the handle instinctively. Aunt Petunia shouting was never a good thing. Either of his Aunt or Uncle shouting generally meant that pain was following, even if Aunt Petunia wasn't as quick to hurt him as Uncle Vernon was.
"Yes, Aunt Petunia?" he asked, expecting perhaps for his list of chores to be assigned. He hoped not. He was still a little tired and shaky from earlier, and he didn't want to be thrashed when he failed to complete his tasks in a timely fashion. Not again.
~If that's what they want, they're in for another rude surprise,~ Tom grumbled. ~They should make their own spawn do some work instead of dumping it all on you. Or even, you know, do some of the work themselves!~
Harry didn't disagree, but he did think that maybe Tom was being a little unfair. After all, he'd never tried to get Dudley to do something he didn't want to. The boy was a menace! He could throw temper tantrums that Harry truly was jealous of, they were so impressive. And Uncle Vernon did work hard all day long, so Harry couldn't blame him for being tired after he got home from work.
~Far, far too good for this world, but this is a conversation for another time,~ Tom was murmuring, but Harry's attention was focused on his Aunt, who seemed to be fidgeting a bit.
"Yes, Aunt Petunia?" he asked again, and she startled a bit.
"You're... well, you're going to be six very soon, and..." She stopped, took a deep breath, and began once more. "Since you're going to be six soon, your Uncle and I have been talking, and we think that maybe your cupboard is getting to be a bit snug for you. So we've cleaned out Dudley's second bedroom for you so that you have a bigger space of your own," she said, and then she was looking down and away, and Harry realized that she was trembling. She was frightened of him. Terrified.
What had that... that ward of Tom's done to them? Tom was very suspiciously not responding to the question, so Harry thought that maybe he didn't actually want to know. Instead of focusing on the question, he chose to focus on the wonderful news that he had his own room. He hadn't ever thought... well, he'd never thought he'd someday get to live in his very own bedroom!
"Thank you so much!" Harry burst out, and offered his Aunt a blinding smile. He couldn't help it, he was just so excited at the thought of having his own room. He'd been pretty sure he was going to live in the cupboard under the stairs until he was old and grey.
She, on the other hand, looked like she was about to be sick. "Really, it's the least we can do," she whispered, and then she was turning, running away from him. Fleeing from him, as though he were some kind of monster.
And to think, just a few days ago he'd thought it would be nice to have the Dursleys terrified of him. Now he wasn't sure that he liked it at all.
~Yes, but if they weren't so afraid of you, you wouldn't have had that delicious sandwich earlier. You wouldn't have a room of your own to go and explore. You would still be doing all of their work instead of learning from me,~ Tom threw out there, and Harry's eyes widened.
He went up the stairs, managed to hold himself in until he was all alone in his brand new room, and then burst out, "Learning from you?" He bounced in place, excited beyond belief. A room of his own, with a bed and sheets and blankets and a pillow! An actual pillow that wasn't beaten down into nothingness by years of wear and tear! And a window to look out of, and a desk to write at, oh, this was wonderful!
~It's still secondhand crap,~ Tom was growling in the back of Harry's mind, but Harry didn't care!
"But it's my secondhand crap," Harry shot back, even though he wasn't entirely sure what the phrase he'd just repeated meant. It was his, and that was all that mattered. If Tom didn't like it, well, he could just keep quiet! Harry was too excited to be brought down by Tom.
Tom let out a heavy sigh, and Harry could almost feel his breath against his skin. It made him giggle, it tickled just a bit. ~Right. So I'll keep quiet about the state of your room, and I don't expect it to stay like this for too long anyway. And as for what I'm going to teach you, I'd thought you'd have guessed by now: I'm going to teach you magic, among other things,~ Tom said, redirecting Harry from his excitement over his room.
"Magic?" Harry whispered, then glanced fearfully around his new room. Which was ridiculous, because Uncle Vernon was downstairs; he could hear the telly going in the living room. "Uncle Vernon says there's no such thing as magic. Aunt Petunia agrees."
~Uncle...~ Tom bit off something that sounded suspiciously like another curse word. ~Child, I told you earlier that what I was doing that was making you so exhausted was magic. Did you not catch that?~
"No I..." Harry stopped, considered, and then said quietly, "Well, no, I mean I heard it but... but magic isn't real! But... how else could you have... oh." He paused, let the thought of magic... magic! sink in a bit more, and then said quietly, "So you're a... a wizard? Or you were. Before you, you know, killed my parents and died."
~Yes, Harry,~ Tom murmured with what sounded like a great deal of forced patience. ~I am a wizard, a very powerful one, and so are you.~ And then, through gritted teeth, ~In fact, I believe that you may even be more powerful than I was before I passed on.~
Harry let out a little gasp, then immediately felt like an idiot. Of course he had to be a wizard to, Tom had said that he was using Harry's magic earlier and that was what made him so tired.
~Glad you're keeping up,~ Tom said dryly. ~When you are eleven, you will enter the wizarding world for the first time. I would show you how to do it sooner, but I'm concerned that it would be a bit dangerous for one such as yourself. The one who managed to slay me would have attracted quite a bit of notoriety, I'm sure. So for now your instruction shall be mostly theoretical, as you are far too young to manage wandless, wordless magic without my own interference.~
Harry was nodding rapidly, giving himself a headache. But he couldn't stop, because he wanted Tom to be absolutely sure that Harry understood what he was saying. Because if Harry was a bad student, Tom might stop. And Harry wanted to know all there was to know about magic and wizards and everything else that came with it. He didn't want to make a fool of himself when he finally was allowed to enter the wizarding world.
~Never fear, child. You will be the most well-educated, Muggle raised halfblood that ever walked the earth. I will see to that myself. And when you do finally enter the wizarding world and attend Hogwarts, you will be a credit to your line and your House.~
"I'll be the best student I can for you, Tom," Harry whispered. And he meant, it, too, with everything in his heart. He would study and learn so that he could be great. Like Tom, who had clearly once been a great wizard, if not infallible. And being taught by Tom would let Harry learn from the other's own mistakes, so that he didn't repeat them.
What better goal could he have?
A/N: Thanks for all the reviews, you guys all rock! Also, just a heads up, next chapter we're playing hopscotch through time, until we reach the events directly leading up to Hogwarts. Hope you're all enjoying this!