Author's Note: Thanks for all the reviews! It has been my endeavour to bring alive an alternative to our famed and beloved story. I greatly appreciate all the encouragement and support I have received. I now present the last instalment to 'A Riddled Universe.' I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Sirius Black : Serena's husband, A Riddled Universe
Sirius Black : Harry's godfather, Original Universe
Only Tom Marvolo Riddle could grow even younger as time passed. However, wonder soon vanished and a shot of fear rushed through her, as Riddle quickly immobilized her with a spell, an unfamiliar look in his eyes. The neat salt and pepper hair turned into an unruly mop of dark hair and the eyes in front of her transformed into an unusual shade of emerald green.
A boy sat in front of her where Riddle once sat. He removed a pair of glasses from his pocket. Frozen in fear and bound by magic, all she could do was look upon the strange scar in the shape of a lightning bolt which illuminated the face of the boy who was Riddle.
Healer Tom Riddle could finally take a deep breath and unwind after the events which took place during the last two days. The irony of the situation was that his 'rest and relaxation' period which was forced upon him by the Hospital Board was coming to an end and he would be officially resuming his duties as Head of St. Mungo soon. Perhaps people as gifted as him were not given the privilege of leading a peaceful life, not that he wanted one, but he wished that the 'unrest' was not caused by targeting his family. This episode with Myrtle brought many things about his personality to light. While he prided himself on being a skilled and compassionate healer and leader, he hated exposing any weakness. His temper was a critical issue which he had to control as well as he had to be more careful in his dealings.
Riddle finally understood why his counterpart 'Voldemort' was a solitary man. As a rock, the only person he had to care for and protect was himself, while Riddle had to think of his family. Myrtle had shown him that he could never assume a position of absolute power; he was probably safer at St. Mungos.
Riddle sighed. He was beginning to think like Dumbledore and that was worrying. However, he needed to gain some semblance in his life. Harry Potter had happily waltzed into his life and turned it topsy-turvy. While he couldn't allocate the whole blame on the boy, Harry did act as a catalyst for the events. The boy also reminded him of himself at that age, though Riddle was cleverer of course.
He observed Harry sitting near the edge of the river which flowed through the Riddle Estate. Given the boy's animosity towards everything Voldemort, he was surprised that he felt comfortable in a strange house and in a strange universe, staying with the man who could have been Voldemort. The boy was an anomaly in himself, but he had potential. Riddle wondered what choices he would make.
"We never did get a chance to continue our training," said Harry as he saw Riddle approaching him. "I was looking forward to being more skilled in Legilimency."
"Life had gotten in the way. However, I am sure that you do not really require my training. You are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. If I underestimated you, I will not do so again," said Riddle in a light tone.
"What happened to Myrtle?" asked Harry. "The last I saw of her was when she was apprehended by the Aurors. Is she already in Azkaban?"
"That was their intention, but I spoke against the idea to Moody and Scrimegeour. If they placed her in Azkaban, she would have been dead within an hour and that is what she wanted. She is mentally ill and therefore, should be treated as such," said Riddle.
Harry tried to piece together the words Riddle wouldn't say. Myrtle was probably already a heavily guarded patient at St. Mungo. But after all the evil she had committed, it seemed unfair that there was no punishment.
"You think I would let her escape her fate, Harry?" asked Riddle as he raised his eyebrow. "I never forget and never forgive. Myrtle will pay for her crimes. That is all the assurance I can give."
Harry fought back a smile. He didn't envy Myrtle's position.
"I never did understand why you chose me to go disguised as you. Why not Severus or Professor Black? I would have thought that one of them would have been the obvious choice," said Harry.
"Obvious but not the logical choice. Even though Myrtle was a squib I was sure that she would have some protective enchantments in place. As your magical signature is similar to mine, it was easy to bypass that security," said Riddle, "and now you are wondering, why did you have to play the charade in the first place? Myrtle would only have revealed her secrets to me and not anyone else. If we had coerced her through legilimency or veritaserum, her already fading health would have declined further and we would not have had our answers. This was our only option."
"But do you believe her answers, especially the ones about Melanie?" asked Harry, he knew he was treading on thin ice but he was curious.
Riddle frowned and pursed his lips, "In the end, we must believe what we can live with. You shouldn't forget that Myrtle wasn't the sanest person and she was resentful."
Silence loomed and Harry knew that he should not have introduced such a delicate topic.
"How come you are at Riddle House today? Shouldn't you be with your godfather?" asked Riddle.
"He is currently talking with Regulus and I didn't want to eavesdrop on their conversation," said Harry. Sirius may have acted like he disliked his brother; however Harry knew that his godfathermourned his death. Plus, Regulus' part in his rescue seemed to have caused Sirius to forgive his brother's counterpart and try to mend the bridges.
"Regulus told me that he found a portal so you will be able to return to your world if you want to. Remember, there is no compulsion. If you chose to return, it is your choice alone," said Riddle, "Though I don't think your godfather is ready for another jaunt through the Veil."
"Sirius and I will probably make the journey after a few months," said Harry, "But I have to return. As much as I love this world, my friends are probably waiting for me."
"Very well," said Riddle as he checked his Muggle pocket watch, "I think it would be best if we adjourn indoors. The sun has grown particularly hot."
"A pocket watch?" asked Harry as he stared at the object in fascination. It seemed strange for Riddle to carry it with him and the way he held it, indicated that the watch was one of his most prized possessions.
"It is a family heirloom," said Riddle and Harry couldn't help but draw comparisons. While Voldemort sought the Slytherin locket as his family heirloom, Riddle was content with his Muggle heritage and even proud of it. This world was certainly strange.
"Why don't you go ahead and wait for me in the sitting room? I shall be indoors shortly," said Riddle dismissively.
Harry looked at him suspiciously but went into the house. It was far too hot to remain outside and whatever Riddle had up his sleeve couldn't be that bad.
It was only when he entered the sitting room when Harry realised why Riddle was behaving strangely. His heart stopped and in spite of all the surprises he had received in this world, he was still caught unawares.
The visitor on the other hand didn't appear to be as surprised as Harry. In fact, he was grinning broadly, his eyes dancing with mischief and good humour.
"So, finally I get a chance to meet the famous Harry James Potter," said the visitor and he rose to stand next to Harry, "We're identical."
Harry burst out laughing. His imaginations had never done justice to this meeting. James Potter was standing in front of him, alive and happy.
He winked at Harry and placing a hand on his shoulder, said, "Here's looking at you, kid!"
When Sirius was discharged from St. Mungos, both he and Harry had relocated to the Potter Mansion, at James' instance. Sirius was delighted of course and this seemed to give him a new lease of life. James' wife did regard Harry suspiciously at the beginning but afterwards, she seemed to accept him and proceeded to pester him with questions about time-travel and dimension-hopping. Apparently, she loved to read science fiction and began to regard Harry as an encyclopaedia of knowledge. James' twin girls were non-interfering and kept to their own devices though they were civil to Harry.
James was ecstatic when he found out that Harry was the youngest Seeker in Hogwarts' history. His girls had not inherited his love for the sport and the fact that his sort-of son excelled in it, was a matter of great pride. He and Sirius spent many hours swapping stories of pranks and jokes while James' wife rolled her eyes in exasperation. The whole setting was so domestic, but Harry knew that he couldn't allow himself to get too attached to this world.
Even though he stayed with James and his family, Harry was a frequent visitor at the Riddle House and Serena's house. He was happy that this world had a 'Harry James Black' in it and showered the baby with all the attention he could and was also quick to leave the room when the diapers needed to be changed. Since, Riddle had returned full-time to St. Mungos, Harry didn't see much of him, but he also spent his time helping around at Lily and Sev's Apothecary. Severus patiently taught him more in Potions in a matter of days then Snape had taught him in five years. Lily on the other hand, proclaimed that she didn't have the patience to teach but kept the mood light with her funny and witty remarks as well as her chocolate biscuits.
Three months had passed since Sirius had been discharged and while life proceeded in slow motion for Harry, he knew that he had to return to his own world. Sirius' health had improved and even Regulus had been fitted with artificial prosthetic magical legs to replace his burned ones.
Harry observed the portal from a distance and couldn't help but feel a bit of irritation. Why couldn't he combine both of these worlds? Why did he have to make the choice? He looked back at Sirius who was talking quietly to James and saw the shadow over his godfather's face. Sirius was dreading returning home but he was putting up a brave front for Harry.
"Are you sure this portal will work?" asked Harry, as he looked at the portal sceptically.
"I am 90% sure that you will be transported to your own world. As for the remaining 10%," said Regulus with a shrug, "depends on magic. It may take you to your own dimension or to another."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," said Harry sarcastically, as he was pulled into an embrace by Lily.
Lily was tearful and tried to blackmail Harry into staying behind. Serena, who was holding her son in her arms, was more composed but Harry could tell that she didn't want him to leave either.
"Thanks for all your help," said Sirius, Serena's husband as he carried his daughter Marianne. "Good luck!"
"Thanks," said Harry, who wasn't sure how to behave in such an emotional climate.
Severus, Remus and Professor 'Artie' Black also shook his hand and tried to give him all sorts of advice ranging from career choice to girls. Harry had turned Weasley red during a certain part of the lecture which resulted in Sirius wolf whistling and Remus giving a mirthful bark of laughter.
While Harry had said his farewell to everyone individually, he kept Riddle for last. Before he spoke to Riddle, he needed to talk to his godfather.
"Are you sure about this?" asked Harry, gesturing to the portal.
"I promised that I would take care of you. I've made many mistakes with regards to you, Harry but I will make up for them," said Sirius.
Harry frowned. He knew his godfather loved him but he didn't want him to make such a big sacrifice for him. Sirius' friends were alive in this world and so were his godfather's chance to live a life were he would not be branded as a former Azkaban escapee. For the first time since Harry knew him, he saw Sirius happy and he didn't want to take it away from him.
"I don't think you should travel through the portal yet," said Harry and when Sirius was about to interrupt, he continued, "Hear me out, when your condition improves, then maybe. For now, I think it will be better for you to stay here."
"I am not letting you to travel without me," said Sirius.
Harry fished in his pocket and removed a broken shard of glass. This was the same mirror Sirius had given him in his fifth year.
"I spoke to Regulus and he assured me that the connecting mirrors will work across dimensions as well. Aberforth gave me the other piece (long story!). We can communicate through this," said Harry as he faked a big smile. This was hard, but Sirius' happiness was paramount.
"I'm not sure…," said Sirius as he stared at the mirror in his hand.
"For my sake, please," said Harry and he could see his godfather's resolve wavering. He gave him a tight hug and knew that this was probably the last time he would meet Sirius in person.
"But you have to communicate through the mirror. Not like last time..," said Sirius, his voice choked as he tightened his arms around Harry.
Finally, Harry walked towards Riddle who was standing quietly in the corner observing the proceedings.
"Well, this is it!" said Harry, not sure of what he should say.
"Indeed, I trust you will be able to keep a level head and not run heedlessly into danger," said Riddle drily.
"If I didn't sir, I wouldn't be Harry Potter," said Harry with a grin as he looked at the small parcel in Riddle's hands.
"This is for you," said Riddle, "though this gift will benefit your entire wizarding world. Enclosed within the wrappings is the potion as well as all the notes relating to the Lycancure. Hopefully, with this little package, lycanthropy can be eradicated from your world as well."
Harry was speechless. He took the parcel from Riddle and held it reverently in his hands. An image of Remus transforming into a wolf entered his mind and he was glad that it would finally become a thing of the past.
"Make sure that you consult a competent and skilled Potioneer and he should be able to guide you with the implementation. Some of the werewolves may be resistant to the change, but I trust that you will take such matters into consideration," said Riddle.
"Thanks. This will save so many lives," said Harry.
Riddle didn't say anything but Harry could tell that the man was a Healer first and a wizard later.
"Before I leave, I need you to do me a favour," said Harry.
"It depends on the favour," said Riddle cautiously.
Harry removed Riddle's Chocolate Frog card from his pocket and a quill, "Can you please autograph this?"
Riddle burst out laughing, a move which was so unlike him, but he picked up the quill and wrote something on the card in his neat handwriting.
Harry read his inscription and was greatly touched. Riddle was definitely not a poet or a sentimental person, which is why his words were even more meaningful. He said a final farewell to everyone before turning to face the portal. His life, friends and Ginny were on the other side. He couldn't hesitate any longer.
Before he moved forward, he took in the expressions of the people he had come to care for in the past few months. People who had made him feel welcome in this strange world.
Harry took a deep breath and walked through the portal, the words of Riddle's inscription echoing in his head:
Same faces, Different names,
Different faces, Same names,
We are but one but not the same,
Destined by choices, we became,
To surmise and conclude this simple verse,
You will always be welcome in the Riddled Universe.