Chapter Four

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or A Christmas Carol.

It was suddenly quite cold. Tom had never actually been around a Dementor but he imagined that if he had the experience would be very much like this one. He looked around. He was suddenly outside of the Leaky Cauldron and there was this…figure next to him. He couldn't quite make out the shape because it was wearing loose black robes that completely covered it but it was large and rather intimidating.

Tom felt his legs begin to tremble and, with effort, stilled them. This was no different than dealing with Merope or the two founders of Hogwarts. And how scary could a ghost be anyway? Ghosts couldn't hurt you and the future was his for the taking. There was really nothing to fear.

"Hello," Tom said politely. "I assume that you are the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?"

The figure inclined its head.

"So you have something of the future to show me to save me from turning evil?" Tom guessed.

Another nod and the figure gestured to the pub.

Tom got the hint and walked inside. He had never been in here for longer than it took to get from Muggle London to the Leaky Cauldron but it usually wasn't quite so lively. It was a good thing that he could move through the scene as if he were a ghost himself because there wasn't room for anyone to really maneuver.

"Free drinks for everybody!" Tom the bartender (why must he be cursed with such a common name?) called out happily.

There was a lot of general excitement about the place. Since he doubted he'd get anything out of the drunks unprompted, he slipped out the back and went through to Diagon Alley.

There were far more people in the Alley than he had ever seen before and he usually went school supply shopping during the busy days that had the best sales. Everyone was looking cautiously hopeful and like they had not had such good news in a terribly long time.

"Is it true?" one witch said to another. "I mean, is it really? I had heard but…it's all a bit too much to hope for, isn't it?"

"It's true, it really is," the other assured her. "Lily and James Potter are dead but so is You-Know-Who! He really died!"

"What about that son of theirs?" the first one asked. "Was he there, too?"

The second nodded so excitedly that her hat nearly fell off. "He was! And he yet lives! I hear he's got a nasty scar but he's alive and You-Know-Who is dead!"

"Who is You-Know-Who?" Tom wondered aloud. It was all very good to have people so terrified to say your name that they had to refer to you as 'you-know-who' or whatever but, on the other hand, it did make it rather difficult when you did not know who it was. "And what does this have to do with me? You want me to see how, if I don't change my ways, people will celebrate my death? What do I care what random strangers think? And I'd be dead anyway so it really makes no difference."

And if he had it his way he'd never die anyway so he would have nothing to worry about.

"I don't think I'll learn any more from watching more people celebrate," Tom told the cloaked figure, not quite looking at him. "Was there anything else I needed to see?"

Another nod and then Tom was in another room.

There were flames, clearly magical, blocking the exit from the room that they were in. A frightened and dirty first or second year was staring at a man in a large purple turban. The man was ignoring him and peering intently into a floor-length mirror.

"What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!" the man entreated.

Was this man's master the boy? Was he just crazy? The latter seemed more likely since the boy didn't appear to be there of his own free will.

"Use the boy ... use the boy ..." replied a voice that seemed to come from the man himself but was not the same voice as had first spoken. Was this some sort of disassociation then or a possession?

Then man rounded on the boy. "Yes - Potter - come here."

That caught Tom's attention. "Potter? As in that child that was there when You-Know-Who died?"

He magically removed the boy's binding and pulled him towards the mirror, instructing him to report what he saw.

"Well?" the man asked impatiently. "What do you see?"

"Is this some sort of magical mirror?" Tom asked, intrigued. "Most mirrors will just show you yourself and even the magical ones I've come across will either just allow you to communicate with someone with the other half of a set of mirrors or it will show your reflection but offer helpful critiques."

He hadn't thought a lot of the advice that he'd received.

"I see myself shaking hands with Dumbledore," the boy claimed. "I - I've won the House Cup for Gryffindor."

Tom stared at him. "He is a terrible liar. And this man believes him? Hopeless."

"Get out of the way," the man said, allowing Potter to gratefully step aside.

Fortunately, Tom wasn't the only one not fooled by the rather pathetic performance as, just when Potter was sneaking away, the earlier voice spoke again. "He lies ... He lies ..."

"Why is he just repeating what he says twice?" Tom wondered. "That seems so unnecessary. And what is going on with that?" He chanced a glance at the spirit but it remained as impassive as ever and he quickly looked away.

"Potter, come back here!" the man shouted. "Tell the truth! What did you just see?"

"Let me speak to him ... face to face ..." the voice insisted.

The man actually dared argue with a being that, for whatever reason, he gave the title 'master.' If Tom ever had anyone call him that he wouldn't put up with that from them. "Master, you are not strong enough!"

"I have strength enough ... for this ..." the voice insisted. Privately, Tom rather wondered about that. After all, it did pause an awful lot when saying pretty simple sentences almost as if it were out of breath or something.

The Potter boy really should have been running but for some reason he just waited patiently while the man approached him, took off his turban, and turned around.

Tom recoiled, disgusted. "Dear God, what is that thing?"

There was no answer of course.

It was…it was a face gone wrong on the back of the man's head. Why would he agree to something like that? Tom wasn't vain but he did have to admit that his father's looks (for who else could they have come from even if he didn't know what said father actually looked like) were convenient and helped him get what he wanted and so he wouldn't soon part from them. And this creature…it didn't have a nose, for one thing. Or rather, it had a snake's nose which wasn't even a real proper nose. It was completely white, too, which just made it look stranger given that the man's skin tone was several shades darker. The eyes were glowing red like something out of a Muggle horror story. It was just appalling. And it was clearly a parasite existing on the back of this idiot's head.

"Harry Potter ..." it whispered. "See what I have become? Mere shadow and vapor ... I have form only when I can share another's body ... but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds ... Unicorn blood has strengthened me, these past weeks ... you saw faithful Quirrell drinking it for me in the Forest ... and once I have the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own ...Now ... why don't you give me that Stone in your pocket?"

Tom didn't question how that thing knew that the stone was in Harry Potter's pocket. It was probably Legilimency or something. Then there was the fact that there was a noticeable bulge in the boy's pocket where there wasn't one before.

At least the thing seemed displeased about the current state of events but how in the world did it even get that far? To be so dependent on another, a servant, a stone, and a unicorn…it was repellent to him. What kind of wizard was so helpless? And it seemed like he was blaming this child for his state, too, which was rather pathetic no matter what had actually happened. This was a first year! If Tom ever got bested by a first year he would just have to admit that he had failed at life somewhere along the line.

Potter finally showed some sense and started to stumble backwards.

"Don't be a fool," snarled the face. "Better save your own life and join me ...or you'll meet the same end as you parents ... they died begging me for mercy ..."

"I have to say," Tom critiqued, "the fact that you're a disembodied face – however grotesque – does not really do much to inspire actual fear and convince people that you can back up your threats. I mean, can you even do magic like that?"

The boy was looking furious. "LIAR!"

The thing smiled as it advanced on Potter. "How touching ...I always value bravery ... Yes, boy, you're parents were brave ... I killed your father first and he put up a courageous fight ...but your mother needn't have died ...she was trying to protect you ...Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain."

"His parents were Lily and James?" Tom questioned. "So this is the You-Know-Who they were speaking of. I see it isn't quite as dead as all that. And he would have to be incredibly thick to actually believe that promise. In fact, if I were him I'd have to wonder why he hadn't just killed me and taken the stone. This offer is a gesture of weakness."

"NEVER!" Potter thundered, running for the flame door.

The thing screamed, "SEIZE HIM!" and then the man grabbed Potter's wrist momentarily before quickly letting go.

It all got a little strange after that. The boy appeared to have a headache and the thing kept shouting about seizing Potter, completely ignoring the fact that every time the man touched him the part of his skin that made contact with Potter's began to blister. That wasn't normal.

"What the-?" Tom began to ask, looking to the spirit but the spirit merely gestured and suddenly they were at Hogwarts.

The first thing that Tom saw was a woman who had the signs of once being beautiful but something had ruined her features. She had a gloating smile in the seconds before a curse hit her in the chest and then she fell over.

"Is this supposed to mean something to me?" Tom asked loudly over the sound of a high-pitched scream. "I am really going to need some context here."

Looking around, Tom saw that the scream seemed to come from a chalk-white snake-man (had You-Know-Who finally gotten a body? Well there was that, at least, since he appeared to have been bested by a first year twice) who cast a spell that sent the three people he was dueling (one of whom seemed to be Slughorn of all people and when did he start putting himself on the line?) flying backwards. You-Know-Who took advantage of this sudden lack of opponents to aim his wand at a dumpy red-headed middle aged woman across the hall. Had she been the one to kill that other woman or something? Seriously, it was like walking into a film an hour into it.

"Protego!" shouted a teenager that Tom hadn't seen there a moment before. Perhaps he could make himself invisible. And was that…

Tom groaned. "Harry Potter? Is this Harry bloody Potter again? Why are you showing me this?"

He didn't even look to see if there was an answer this time because he knew that there wouldn't be.

The crowd in the Great Hall had apparently been under the impression that he was dead or something because they were all very pleased to see him and were loudly shouting about his living status.

"I don't want anyone else to help," Potter declared, silencing the crowd. "It's got to be like this. It's got to be me."

"Well of course he doesn't feel like he needs help," Tom said, irritated. "Apparently he regularly defeats You-Know-Who over here."

You-Know-Who hissed."Potter doesn't mean that. This isn't how he works, is it? Who are you going to use as a shield today, Potter?"

Potter didn't seem disturbed by the taunt and why should he? You-Know-Who was clearly exceedingly bad at killing him and if someone failed to kill anybody often enough then they just lost credibility. Maybe there was some leeway if the person who wasn't killed was someone like Dumbledore but this boy was still a child even now. He might be a little older than Tom himself but it wasn't like he claimed to be an adult just yet.

And You-Know-Who shouting about how all of the apparently many, many times that Potter had gotten the better of him were just freak accidents that could have happened to anybody wasn't convincing anyone.

Potter's use of the word 'Horcrux' intrigued him. He had heard about Horcruxes and how they were a nice way to cheat death. He was still looking into them, though, trying to make sure he knew how to do it right and that there wouldn't be any side effects that he didn't want to deal with. There wasn't much he would not do to stay alive but there might be other ways to do it that didn't involve particularly nasty side effects like no magical powers or constant pain or something.

And the fact that Potter had apparently destroyed all of You-Know-Who's made the case for hiding them better and not telling anyone about them. It really would make the most sense to use something not obviously valuable but Tom didn't know if he'd be able to just stash a piece of his very soul in an old boot or something. It just wasn't very dignified.

"You won't be killing anyone else tonight," Potter declared boldly as he and You-Know-Who circled each other. "You won't be able to kill any of them ever again. Don't you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people. "

"But you did not!" Tom and You-Know-Who said at exactly the same time. Tom's tone was matter-of-fact while You-Know-Who's appeared rather desperate but the similarity disturbed Tom and he frowned.

"I meant to, and that's what did it," Potter claimed.

"Oh, that's not fair. You 'meant to' but didn't so why should that count?" Tom demanded.

"I've done what my mother did. They're protected from you. Haven't you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can't torture them. You can't touch them. You don't learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?" Potter asked contemptuously.

Tom was torn from his musings about protection spells (he'd never had much use for them but if they can stop magic from working there might be something to them, if only to work around them) by that familiar appellation.

You-Know-Who wasn't pleased either. "You dare-"

"Yes, I dare," interrupted Potter. And why not? Nothing Tom had seen so far gave him any reason to think that Potter couldn't do whatever he pleased as far as You-Know-Who went. "I know things you don't know, Tom Riddle. I know lots of important things that you don't. Want to hear some, before you make another big mistake?"

There. It was official. He couldn't deny it anymore although he was sorely tempted to. Denial might lead to ignoring this and, as Potter said, making another big mistake. He couldn't even begin to imagine the mistakes he must have made to have been killed by a small child and then forced to depend on so very many things and people and to look like he was some deranged snake-man and to have all of his Horcruxes destroyed. He might die. He probably would, right here and now.

He was barely listening as Potter spoke of strange things that Tom couldn't possibly understand, not now decades before the words would mean anything. He let the news that love was apparently a very big deal magically, that someone named Snape was in love with Potter's mother and so never on that thing's side, and that Dumbledore had the Elder Wand and even if that thing currently held it Potter was its true master wash over him. He had heard of the elder wand, briefly, in a book of children's tales. And it was real it would seem.

But what did that matter? This future could not be. He wouldn't let it. It didn't matter if he was 'evil' or not but to come to such an ignoble end…it would not happen, he swore it.

"So it all comes down to this, doesn't it?" whispered Potter, winding down from his truly impressive speech. "Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does... I am the true master of the Elder Wand."

That thing that Tom could not accept as his future self cast a sensible Avada Kedavra at Potter who, at that same moment, responded with an…Expelliarmus. Not the choice Tom would have made and from the expressions that many in the crowd wore he was not alone in his wondering about the wisdom of that.

Still, it seemed to work for Potter as the spells met in a burst of golden flames and not only did the Elder Wand fly out of that thing's hand but the bright green killing curse rebounded and hit it dead on.

Potter even caught the wand. Damn him.

The cheers that rose up then were nothing. It didn't matter and it wasn't him and it would never be because of this second chance so it didn't matter but they were still rather irksome and so Tom quickly turned back to the spirit. It was strangely harder to look at him now than it was before.

"I'm ready to go home," Tom said quietly. "I've seen enough and I understand now that changes will have to be made."

The spirit approached Tom and he held his breath but stood his ground as it wrapped one cloaked arm around him and covered him darkness.

The next moment, Tom's entire body was still covered but it was much warmer and he was lying down so he pulled his blankets off of his head. He had somehow ended up back in his bed although he rather doubted it was a dream. It was too important to risk that it had not been a dream.

He didn't rush out of bed, however. He just lay there for awhile thinking. It was Christmas morning so though everyone was bound to be up early, they would be too preoccupied with presents for the time being and so he had time.

He still didn't see how a few harmless attacks would lead to him dead at the hands of a teenager one day after spending who knew how long existing as a parasite but with so many people linking the two events (although they seemed more concerned with the morality than the mortality) he figured that they might have a point.

And he certainly didn't want to risk people knowing that he was the one attacking them. Maybe one day but for now it wouldn't suit his purposes and if that sort of thing got out then it would close far more doors than it would open. The kind of people that would support his actions were usually Slytherin enough to not openly do so.

He wondered what he would even get out of a life like that because it certainly couldn't be worth it. Near-universal respect and fear was nice but he didn't approve of the accompanying dislike he seemed to have as well. Tom had never actually killed anybody and while he didn't believe that it would bother him, he also doubted that he would enjoy it so much as to make that be his sole or even main motivation for a career as a genocidal madman. And if he ever did become so self-indulgent then clearly he was already making mistakes.

Far better to have legitimate power than have to curse everyone in sight to force them to obey him.

So that decided it, then. If genocidal madman had ever been something he had been considering – and it really hadn't so where had that come from? – then he could definitely rule it out.

And if he did make Horcruxes (or perhaps just one because he would really need to look into what made him look like a humanoid snake) he'd definitely have to hide it better.

And one day, if his new plan didn't change things and prevent Harry Potter from being born, he was going to have to hunt him down and find some way to feel better about what he had seen in the future. It would be difficult because a grown man in some way dominating a child would just be pathetic but he had a few years to figure it out.

And he'd need to do some serious reworking of his plan to remake the wizarding world in his image that did not involve having to kill so many people and consequently end up in that pathetic state where he'd almost be better off dead.

He'd have to be much more careful in the future because he hadn't even known about the mistakes he was making. But now that he did he was confident that he was on a better path with a better and less humiliating future waiting for him.

And if that wasn't a Christmas miracle then he didn't know what was.

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