Paring: Harry/Voldemort pre-slash

Rating: T

Summary: Looking not a day older than sixteen, as he had all those years ago in the Chamber, Tom Riddle stopped behind the mirror and raised a shaking hand to touch it, his eyes wide with wonder. And Harry took a step forward and reached his own hand out to touch the glass on his own side.

The title comes from Secret Sphere's "Eternity", which is pretty much all I listened to while I wrote this.

Happy birthday, Lord Voldemort. :)

Welcome to a New Eternal Dream

Voldemort stood before the mirror and watched the boy on the other side.

He had found the mirror ages ago and hardly a minute ago. Time held no meaning in this place. According to the events he could see on the other side of the glass, he thought it might have been over a year ago, but even that was difficult to tell. The mirror never moved, and he only ever had one visitor.

One visitor. The one wizard who he would be thankful to never seen again, and who he wished would never leave his side, as he so often did.

The mirror was the only thing of interest in this place. The world around him was dark and shapeless as the wind between the stars, with no floors or wall or ceilings, nothing but the mirror to provide direction. If he wandered long enough, he would reach memories, memories of his life and lives of the pieces of his soul, which would then dissolve into darkness again if he spent too long wandering within them. He could do nothing but observe his life again and again, looking for where he had gone wrong, what mistakes he could have possibly made, or wander the endless darkness.

Or watch the world outside the mirror. Which was what he had usually chosen to do ever since he had come across it.

It had been more than a year ago, he thought. That was what the world outside told him. He had watched as his own deathly bolt of light had been sent flying back at him by his own wand, the wand that should have been rightfully his, and then he had woken in the darkness. He had wandered for what had seemed like months, sometimes coming across memories, sometimes finding nothing but the velvet black of his own personal hell, never finding the way to escape it no matter how much he raged and threw curses into the nothing.

His memories had always been his own, nothing more than the years he had lived in his own body or as a spirit without it.

Time passed, and he began remembering new things, things which he had never experienced and yet he must have, because they were there.

He remembered attacking an ashy smelling man with bright read hair in a dark stone corridor and being attacked by a boy with a glittering silver sword set with rubies the size of small eggs.

He remembered a scream of rage and confusion and of spending days in a dark, cramped space, of facing challenge after challenge with distinction until he faced one last burst of green light.

He remembered sitting in a cluttered room, while one boy used him to hide a potions book and another worked tirelessly to repair a broken cabinet, sometimes getting angry and sometimes crying with fear and frustration but never giving up.

He remembered being passed lovingly to a woman who would guard him with her life, and more than her life, and how he had been snatched from her vault in the midst of commotion and heat and betrayal.

He remembered a teen with black hair from a good family and his house elf stealing him away to be hidden for years in plain sight and of being stabbed by the same silver sword that had killed him once before. Or once after.

He remembered being turned over in the wrinkly hands of and old man he hated, except he had defences for that and that man barely lived through the encounter, and then he was stabbed again in a flash of silver and determination.

He remembered being passed from hand to hand to hand and drenched in water and ink and he had been the secret friend of a little girl for nearly a year before he was drenched in ink one last time as a basilisk fang pierced his pages.

And then there were the memories of people. He knew his own life story and he knew the life story of the boy in the mirror, because he had lived them both, and he knew nearly that much about several others, because they had told him or he had looked through their minds.

He had figured out very quickly that he knew these things, began remembering these things he had never lived through, because his Horcruxes were returning to him one by one. That could be all it was, though he could not imagine how it could be possible. The books he had read had stated very clearly that such a thing should have been impossible, that a soul torn in two would always remain so unless it pulled itself together through feelings of genuine remorse, and he had certainly never felt that, and it couldn't be done after death in any case.

And yet, he was sure that somehow, those fractions of his soul were being returned to him, had been returned to him, would be returned to him, and while he would always be torn to pieces and never whole, he was at least back together again.

He was sure it had something to do with the boy outside the mirror, the boy who had conquered Death and laughed in its face as he had only dreamed of doing.

First he had been pulled back together.

Then he had found the mirror.

He'd found the mirror during one of his restless night-time strolls around the castle. It was his "eighth" year, his last year at Hogwarts, the year when he was supposed to be able to relax and actually be a regular student for once, instead of worrying about what awaited him outside the school. All he had to worry about now was the torrential downpour of school work and the exams at the end of the year that would determine his future and slowly making up with Ginny Weasley as they figured out what they each wanted from that relationship.

That was what it was supposed to be like. Instead, he had been feeling progressively more and more restless, like there was still something he needed to do, still some enemy out there to prepare for, like his part in the war still wasn't over.

He had taken to walking the halls at night under his Invisibility Cloak sometime in October. And at the end of it, he came across the mirror.

He'd recognized it at once. How often had he crept out of his dormitory to stand in front of it that first year under this very cloak until Dumbledore had convinced him not to waste his life in front of it? It towered above him even now that it had been seven years and he had looked at it so often the inscription inscribed above the glass was still etched in his mind: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

He had crept forward immediately, curious as to what he might see in it now. He didn't think it would be his family anymore. Perhaps it would be creating a new family with Ginny to join the old one he had seen so long ago.

But when he had stopped in the appropriate spot in front of it, he'd nearly bolted from the room. Because the last thing he had expected was to see himself surrounded by half a dozen versions Voldemort, each at a separate stage of his transformation from handsome Head Boy to snake-like Dark Lord.

He'd nearly bolted. But he felt an overwhelming curiosity to know why the mirror seemed to think being surrounded by Voldemort was his deepest darkest desire, and so he'd stayed where he was to figure it out.

The Voldemort that stood closest to the Harry in the mirror was the one that looked the most like the one he had killed in May. As Harry watched, the Harry in the mirror turned to him, took a small snake out of his pocket, and held it out between them. The snake leapt out of his hand to wrap around Voldemort's neck. It writhed there for a moment, circling Voldemort's neck like a living necklace. Then it began to fade and sink into his skin, and then it was gone and so was one of the other Voldemorts, and the one closest to Harry had gained his slightly more youthful appearance.

Again and again, the Harry in the mirror offered Voldemort an item which then faded and became a part of him, and slowly he took on the appearance of the other Voldemorts in turn while they disappeared one by one, until there was only Harry and a teenage Tom Riddle left, smiling as they stood side by side.

Harry left after that, because it was an uncomfortable sight and he needed to think about what the mirror had shown him.

It had something to do with the Horcruxes, he was sure; there wasn't much else it could be. And the mirror seemed to think Voldemort could be reunited with them and made whole again somehow—or rather, it seemed to think that was what he wanted. Dumbledore had warned him against thinking too much of what the mirror showed him, that some wizards had gone mad or wasted their lives before it as they trying to figure out if what it showed was actually real.

Harry had no intention of letting himself be drawn under the mirror's spell again. What he truly desired had always been something he could never have, and he didn't think this time would be any different.

And yet, he found himself wandering back there the next night, and the night after that, and the one after that, to watch the vision of Voldemort's soul becoming one again.

It wasn't an unpleasant vision. It was something he would have liked to have seen, if Voldemort had not been so blind and stubborn. Voldemort had deserved everything he'd gotten in the end, but that didn't mean Harry thought it was fair for anyone to remain in such a broken state. He didn't deserve it, but Harry felt an immense amount of pity for him.

It was when he realized that that he decided he might at least try to find a way to restore Voldemort's soul. If there was anyone who might stand a chance of actually doing it, he, the so called Master of Death, was the one.

It had required retrieving the two Hallows he had given up, which was easy enough when he knew where to find them. It had required finding the remains of the Horcruxes, which also turned out to not be quite as difficult as he'd thought it might. And it required research into necromancy and the theory behind how and why Horcruxes were supposed to work, which took, by far, the longest amount of time when he had so much studying to do otherwise.

His friends wondered a few times what he was doing and why when he'd tried to explain, but he only told them what he knew himself: that he felt he needed to do it and maybe once he was done, he'd finally stop feeling so restless.

He began the rituals he thought he needed to reach through to the other side and act there, although it was far easier to him than it would have been anyone else, because he had the protection of the Hallows. He took his N.E.W.T.s and passed the subjects he'd needed with flying colours. He asked McGonagall if he could take over the Defence Against the Dark Arts position, which she allowed after wondering why he no longer wished to become an Auror, and he requested that he might stay at Hogwarts over the summer to prepare, which she allowed with a softened and knowing look.

In truth, he had been wavering in his decision to become an Auror since before he'd found the mirror again, but his decision to stay at Hogwarts had more to do with needing the mirror to perform his rituals. It was the necessary focus to his magic, as it had been what had shown him this possibility in the first place.

School started again and had to devote his days to teaching and grading papers and looking out for students in the hallways. Somehow, though, he still found the time to visit the mirror and finish his quest. It had taken him months, because he had to wait several weeks between each ritual or they would have killed him with exhaustion. This was especially true when he got to those Horcruxes that Voldemort had made first, which had contained the bits of his soul that had been separated from him the longest and were powerful enough to develop personalities of their own.

But one night in December, the night of the last day of the term, he finally guided the last Horcrux, the diary, into the mirror and his task was done.

And then he wasn't sure what to do. He no longer felt nearly as restless as before, so he could only assume that either it had worked or it had worked well enough to satisfy him. But he began feeling a new sort of restlessness; he wanted to know whether it had worked. He was dealing with—and probably breaking—laws of magic of which, at the end of the day, he really had very little understanding. He had no way of telling if it had worked all on his own.

At the end of December, he ventured another trip to the mirror. He knew what his heart's desire was now, though he wasn't sure if the mirror would show him anything concrete.

When he stepped up to the mirror, his own image faded away. In it's place was darkness so deep it hurt to look at. And out of the darkness, a figure approached the glass, a figure which made his breath catch and his stomach squirm with unpleasant memories.

Looking not a day older than sixteen, as he had all those years ago in the Chamber, Tom Riddle stopped behind the glass and raised a shaking hand to touch it, his eyes wide with wonder.

And Harry took a step forward and reached his own hand out to touch the glass on his own side.

Then he had found the mirror.

One day, it had simply appeared before him, a beacon of light and difference in this unchanging darkness. The thought crossed his mind that perhaps this was the end, perhaps this was the exit and he would be able to go on. He had always run from death, and even now he was terrified of the idea, but it would have been better than wandering this limbo forever.

He recognized the mirror once he was close enough to read the writing inscribed above the glass. He had only found it once during his many explorations of the school, and once was all he had needed. Then, he had seen himself invincible and truly immortal with nothing to rely on to keep him that way whatsoever, a grand sorcerer with knowledge of magic beyond his wildest dreams. It was a beautiful vision, one that he was already well on his way to making come true.

Now the glass showed not himself, but the boy who had sent him here, standing alone in a dusty classroom. It was not so much a mirror as a window into Hogwarts, into a world he would never be a part of again. He stopped as he reached it and raised a hand to touch the glass, wondering for a moment whether he might be able to reach through it, whether this wasn't an exit after all.

But his hand touched cool but solid glass, as he had known it would, and all he could to was watch the scene on the other side.

Potter reached a hand up to copy him so they were standing palm to palm with only a thin layer between them. It was the closest Voldemort had been to the boy since he had been reborn in the graveyard and he took a moment to catalogue the differences before his sight and senses were overwhelmed with rage.

He was older now, older than had been even during their battle. Old enough that he should no longer have been at Hogwarts. Perhaps he was visiting or even taught there, accomplishing one more thing that he himself had never been capable of.

Old enough that he would have seemed older than himself at the moment, if only by a couple years. He had no way of knowing exactly what he looked like now, but he was sure that he had regressed back to age at which he had created the diary when he had received those memories and that last piece of his soul.

And his eyes were not as bright as Voldemort had expected from the Boy Who Simply Wouldn't Die, who now had nothing but his own future riding on his shoulders. His eyes were tired and his shoulders tense and he looked as though he were still ready to charge into battle any moment. For the rest of the world, the war might have been over, his Death Eaters killed and captured, himself dead, but it was not over in the soul of Harry Potter and might never be.

A small part of him felt immensely satisfied that Potter had not escaped without wounds of his own. Another part wondered that he was able to see this at all, that he somehow had this window into the living world, the world that he should still have rightfully been walking within.

Mostly, however, he felt an overwhelming rage at this boy who had destroyed his Horcruxes and killed him and had somehow escaped death himself, despite being hit by a Killing Curse and doing nothing to stop it.

Voldemort let his hand fall back to his side and let his wand fall into his hand (how he still had his wand, he couldn't imagine, but he was glad for it all the same) and flung an angry curse at the glass of the mirror, a bright green bolt that spoke of death and pain. He hardly waited to see if it would go through or merely bounce off before he was stepping back and firing more curses, curses of pain and suffering and rage and frustration. He blindly attacked the mirror, hardly caring that he could break it or reflect curses back on himself; he was dead, so what could any of them do to him, he only cared that one, just one, flew through the enchanted glass and hit Potter.

He fired curse after curse for what seemed to be hours, until he was exhausted physically and mentally and magically. Only then did he look up to see what might have come of his fit of rage.

Nothing had reflected back at him, and it seemed nothing had gotten through. The mirror had absorbed the magic and looked none the worse for wear for it. It stood there in the darkness as if it had always done, and his window to the world remained unchanged.

But Potter was gone.

He very nearly began cursing the mirror again out of frustration. But for the first time since he had begun wandering this place, he actually felt like he might like to rest for a bit. So he crawled close to the mirror again and leaned back against it, wondering if it was more of a blessing or a curse in his new unchanging world.

Harry took a step back as he watched the first spell fly toward him, a poisonous green he had seen flying his way once before, but it hit the glass between them and harmlessly dissipated. Voldemort didn't seem to have noticed; soon the glass was alight with bright colours as he threw spell after spell, desperately, angrily trying to get at Harry.

Harry didn't feel like sticking around to watch. He had his answer, or so he thought. His efforts had not been in vain, and Voldemort was now free to do whatever it was the dead did as a whole soul rather than just a fragment. That was all he had wanted to see. Whether the boy in the mirror was only a vision of this or if it was somehow actually Voldemort's spirit didn't really matter to him, he would have expected curses either way.

He was satisfied and he walked out, leaving Voldemort behind him, lost behind a rain of colourful spells.

He'd thought that would be the end of it. He had accomplished one desire and been satisfied by another, so he could move on with his life at last.

But within days, he found himself tracing his steps back to the abandoned classroom. He was curious as to whether it was actually Voldemort on the other side of the glass, as to whether he was getting a true glimpse into the hellish existence he had made for himself through his various misdeeds and crimes against the natural order.

He saw nothing in the mirror at first, but once he got close enough and at the right angle, the glass went dark and Tom Riddle appeared. His eyes were closed and his forehead rested against the glass and he looked more tired than Harry had thought possible.

Harry hesitated, and then walked up to the mirror and experimentally tapped his fingers on the glass.

Voldemort's eyes flew open and fixed on him. He saw now that in one way he was not quite the Tom Riddle from the Chamber after all; his eyes still burned red and opened in slits like a snake's.

Harry shuddered and took a step back. He'd had one too many nightmares about those eyes—many of them since that day in May—to feel comfortable being so close to them.

Voldemort's eyes burned with rage and hatred for a moment, but he didn't move for his wand again. He must have decided that it wasn't worth the effort when nothing would actually escape the mirror like he wanted.

Harry thought that he might be able to cast a spell through to Voldemort, if he wanted, using the Elder Wand. He might have even been tempted to try it if he'd had the Elder Wand with him. It would undoubtedly enrage Voldemort even more than his just standing there did.

"Can you hear me?" Harry asked after a moment, as another experiment.

Voldemort's eyes flashed with anger and wonder both in the instant before he shut them. He nodded once and mouthed something, but it seemed this connection only went one way, because Harry only heard silence. Well, that was just fine with Harry. He wasn't sure why he was trying to talk to this bastard in the first place, other than to sate his curiosity.

"I can't hear you," Harry said, and he had the pleasure of watching Voldemort's fists clench in anger. "You'll have to just nod or something." He hesitated before he finally asked his question, because he wasn't sure what he wanted the answer to be. "...Are you real?"

Voldemort's eyes flew open again and he gave Harry a supremely offended look in the second before his wand was out and he was throwing curses again.

Harry left when it became clear he wasn't going to stop any time soon. He was satisfied with his answer.

Sometimes, Voldemort wandered from the mirror, away in the world of darkness and memories, searching for some other window into the living world, something else that could possibly provide him a way out. He knew he would find nothing, but there were times in which he preferred the darkness to his only visitor.

He rarely strayed for long, however. The mirror was the only connection to life he had left, and it was a welcome distraction from reliving his lives over and over. He was always able to find his way back to it, no matter how far he tried to wander away.

He wondered if perhaps it was part of the magic of the mirror. The mirror showed one's deepest desires, and Potter was able to see him. Perhaps the mirror ensured he would always find his way back so Potter could always see what he desired.

It had amused him, once he sat down and thought about it, that Potter desired to see him. He wondered what Dumbledore would think, to see that his precious Boy Too Stubborn to Die actually wanted to see him and spend time with him and talk to him.

Because he had been doing almost nothing but since he had first asked whether Voldemort was real. Sometimes his visits were so close together it might have been several nights in a row, and sometimes they were spread apart across what he thought might be weeks, but Potter always chose to return eventually. He spent hours in front of the mirror, talking about his classes or his companions or some new law the Ministry had passed that he didn't agree with. Occasionally he would only sit and stare at him, and occasionally he would spend his time practising some spell for his classes or just for fun.

When it was a spell Voldemort recognized, he was occasionally gracious enough to show Potter the proper way to perform it, because he nearly always did something wrong at first. It was a way to alleviate the boredom and to keep his magic from getting too restless.

After a while, he thought he could admit to himself that it was also because he enjoyed watching Potter perform magic, and he enjoyed the look on his face when he performed a new spell correctly. He looked alive when he waved his wand, possessed with magic and energy and delight, and it was enthralling.

Once, his friends at school had mentioned something similar about himself, and later he had heard it again in whispers he was never meant to overhear among his Death Eaters. It brought to mind words he had never spoken to a younger Potter in the Chamber of Secrets.

There are strange likenesses between us, after all.

It took longer for him to tolerate Potter's incessant prattle, but even that became enjoyable eventually. It was something to listen to, something that wasn't a part of the darkness around him, and he found that Potter had a sharp wit and dark sense of humour he could appreciate. Though it did help that after a while, he spoke less about his friends and more about his classes and his life as a teacher. It was a life Voldemort had desired for many years, and while he would have grown tired of dealing with incompetent children himself, he enjoyed Potter's stories about them and the frustration he occasionally let through after a particularly trying day.

Because Potter held himself on a very tight leash, and it was a treat to see him lose hold of it once in a while. There was a darkness inside him that would have made him quite successful in the Dark Arts, had he not been prejudiced against them so early. There were depths to his anger that Voldemort was quite familiar with, and a frustration with the world and his place in it that he understood very well.

Voldemort did not doubt that Potter truly did enjoy his job, and that he would have enjoyed being an Auror, if he had chosen to stay on that path like he sometimes said wished he could have. But he was restless, always looking for the next thing to occupy his time, as he must have been trained to be through his long years growing up as Dumbledore's chosen soldier. Peacetime did not suit him, and that thought had made Voldemort smile on more than one occasion.

He doubted Harry would ever actually snap and do something about his restlessness. He was too Gryffindor for that, too Light. And it would take him away from the mirror for too long, which he didn't particularly want.

But sometimes, when Harry had not visited for days and he was alone with his thoughts, he imagined a world in which Harry had thrown away his inhibitions and descended upon the Wizarding world in a whirlwind of anarchy and furious demands and it made those hours of waiting a little less unbearable.

He wasn't sure when the idea had come to him.

And he was sure it was only because he was going mad, because why else would he be seriously considering it.

But after a while, he thought he might like to find a way to get Voldemort out of the mirror.

He had been a bit surprised by how easy it became to talk to the dark-haired man in the mirror, by how often he chose to come here and spend time with him, by how sometimes he found himself looking forward to night-time, when he would be able to slip away and stand before the mirror. At first, it had only been because he needed someone to talk to, and Ron and Hermione and Ginny all lived and worked in London, and besides, sometimes they were the ones he needed to talk about. Talking to Neville, much as Harry liked him, was not quite the same and he always felt he could not be entirely open with Neville in case what he said ever got back to his friends.

Talking to Voldemort was not the same either, but at least he couldn't interrupt and he wouldn't be able to spill his secrets to anyone either.

And there were the times when Voldemort decided to actually teach him magic. They were few and far between, and Harry was bewildered by it every time, but he treasured every one. Same as the small smiles he managed to pull out of the man on occasion, each one followed by an annoyed scowl.

To him, these were signs that maybe Voldemort was not all bad, that there was something in his black heart that was almost human.

If only he had discovered it before he'd killed himself with his own pride.

As the months passed, Voldemort abandoned his attempts to curse Harry, even when Harry said something that angered him enough that he would have done it some other time. As more months passed, he started showing those brief, shining moments of humanity more and more often, though still so infrequently that Harry could remember each one.

And as the months passed, Harry began paying more attention to him, rather than staying for as long as it took to rant himself out for the night and then leave without a second glance. And the more he watched, the more he was sure that Voldemort was miserable and that Harry was all he had to forget it for a while.

Before he had found the mirror, he wouldn't have cared, and would have even been fiercely smug that Voldemort was getting what he deserved. Even a few months after spending his nights with the man, he wouldn't have cared.

The uncomfortable feeling in his gut crept on him slowly, until he couldn't say when the idea had first come upon him but he knew that he needed to act on it. It was the same sort of restless need that had driven him to help Voldemort in the first place, and he knew it wouldn't subside until he'd accomplished something.

He knew very well how to get Voldemort out of the mirror. That was the easy part.

It was finally deciding to go through with it, and when, that posed the most difficulty.

Voldemort stood before the mirror and watched the boy on the other side.

Harry had been preparing for something for weeks. He never said anything about it, continuing on with his usual prattle as if nothing had changed, but it would be a cold day in hell before Harry Potter managed to successfully deceive Lord Voldemort. He saw it in the way his eyes glanced furtively at his pocket, in the way his back and shoulders became tense and his posture rigid, in the way he carefully steered his conversations now while trying to pretend nothing had changed.

Harry was preparing himself for something, the way he had steeled himself before Voldemort's wand in the Forbidden Forest, and Voldemort was immensely curious as to what it might be this time.

And now he thought it might be time to find out. Harry had arrived in their classroom with a small cake levitating in front of him and a look of fierce determination on his face. He'd promptly set the cake on one of the desks and began decorating, throwing green and silver streamers throughout the room, held up by only magic.

Voldemort stood as near to the mirror as he dared and nearly shook his head with bewilderment. He could imagine what Harry was up to, but he had no idea why he thought it might be appreciated.

Once the streamers were in place and the door was shut, Harry turned and walked over to the mirror, stopping a little farther away from it than he usually did. Then he fished something out of his pocket and held it up.

Voldemort would have felt his breath catch if he had still had a need to breathe. The original had been destroyed, he was sure, along with his other Horcruxes, but Harry had crafted—or found someone to craft, more likely—an exact replica of the ring he had taken from his worthless uncle. The black stone with the Peverell coat of arms had been cracked down the middle, likely in the process of destroying his Horcrux, but otherwise it was perfect.

He had no idea what Harry was doing with it or why he thought he might like to know it existed, and he told Harry as much with a bewildered crook of his lips.

Harry smiled a quiet smile that only enhanced the determined look in his eyes. Then his eyes fell shut and he carefully turned the ring over in his hand three times.

And Voldemort felt a sudden wash of cold and his dark prison shattered around him.

It had taken the longest amount of time, Harry thought, to decide that he did not want Voldemort to disappear quickly, which would happen the first time he had to set the Stone down to do something else. No, he would have to find a way to keep it next to his skin at all times, or at least until he grew tired of the Dark Lord's presence.

After that it had been simple to decide to set it in another ring. He thought that might have been why it been placed in a ring to begin with. And it had only seemed appropriate for that ring to look like the one it had come out of.

Harry turned the ring over in his hand three times, waited a moment, and opened his eyes.

And before him stood the Tom Riddle who had escaped the diary, more substantial than a ghost but hardly solid either, and without most of the misty quality that he remembered that Horcrux as having. He was staring at his hands in wonder, and then around the classroom, and then again at his hands, as though he thought he might disappear at any moment.

Harry smiled and slipped the ring onto his finger, where the bottom of the Stone would rest against his skin and ensure that Voldemort would remain.

"How...?" Voldemort murmured, finally lifted his eyes to stare at Harry.

Harry smiled again, a less pleasant smile, and lifted his hand to show off the ring. "The Resurrection Stone. You had it the whole time, you know." He laughed and turned his hand to look over the Stone himself. "Not that you'd have used it, even if you knew."

Voldemort shook his head and looked back down at his hands. Harry gave him a moment to get used to the idea of being back in the living world, even if it was as a sort of spirit.

"Shades brought back by the Resurrection Stone are usually miserable," Harry said quietly after a moment, not caring if Voldemort was listening. He needed to say it and he needed to hear it himself, so he could be sure he'd done that right thing. "They don't want to be here, because this isn't where they belong anymore. But you never wanted to be there, so I didn't think you'd object."

Voldemort snorted softly and bowed his head. "I thought I would never leave that place..."

"You'd have deserved it," Harry said, crossing his arms.

Voldemort looked as though he would have dearly liked to roll his eyes and only good manners kept him from it. Then he absently shook his wand free from his sleeve and raised his hand.

Harry hastily uncrossed his arms and laid a hand over the ring, prepared to slide it off again. "You should know that I'm the only one who can see you, and I'm the only thing keeping you here," he said warily, never taking his eyes off the wand in Voldemort's hand.

Voldemort smiled a vicious smile, but his wand remained aimed at something behind Harry. "I would never dream of harming you, Harry. Our quarrel is over. Wingardium leviosa!"

There was a clatter behind him and Harry whipped his head around to see one of the many dusty chairs floating halfway to the ceiling. A cold shiver ran down his back, which he recognized a moment later as thrill and anticipation. He had not known that Voldemort might still be able to use magic in this form, nervous as he had been that he'd find himself cursed. It only made this an even stupider and more dangerous thing to do, and that excited him.

Harry turned back just in time to see a truly delighted smile cross Voldemort's face and he relaxed slightly. The was something human in there, something that delighted in the pure joy of being alive again, and he doubted that Voldemort would risk losing that feeling by causing trouble.

Then Voldemort turned that smile on him and he had to look away. That and the feelings it tried to cause in him were not things he was ready to deal with yet.

A cool hand touched his cheek and he allowed it to turn his head back so he could look up into those burning red eyes. Even at sixteen, Voldemort was still several inches taller than he was, he noted with irritation.

"What is all this?" Voldemort asked, gesturing at the decorations and the cake.

"Same thing this was," Harry said, gesturing at Voldemort's ghostly body. "You've been good; I thought you deserved a reward."

Voldemort raised an eyebrow at him and waited for the truth with calm amusement.

Harry stared back at him until he could no longer pretend he was anything but serious, and then shrugged awkwardly and looked away. Now that Voldemort had drawn attention to it, the idea seemed a little silly and he wasn't sure what he had been thinking.

"It's your birthday," he said after a moment, avoiding looking at the shade in front of him. "I know you probably didn't get to really celebrate it growing up, like me. You probably can't eat anything, but that's present enough, isn't it?" He gestured vaguely at Voldemort again and kept his eyes on the mirror behind him.

The mirror that, for once, reflected nothing but what was actually in the room before it.

"I must admit," Voldemort murmured, and his voice was so full of genuine gratitude that Harry had to stare at him, "that no one has done anything quite so magnificent for me before..." He smiled again, one of his sardonic smiles that almost looked charming in this face. "Certainly, no other birthday compares."

That was as close to a "thank you" he was going to get, Harry was sure, and he thought he didn't really need more than that. His thanks were clear in the tone of his voice and the brightness of his eyes.

Harry gave him a smile of his own in return and thought about squeezing one of his hand, but decided against it. One step at a time.

"Happy birthday, Tom."

And for once, Voldemort's eyes did not flash with rage at the name. In fact, he only looked more amused than ever. "Yes, it is."