At the base of the statue lay a black-robed figure with dark hair.
"Tom!" Harry flew to his side. He fell to his knees on the stone floor, rolling Riddle onto his back. His eyes were closed, his skin clammy and pale. "Oh - oh god, Tom, please wake up -"
Grey eyes blinked open quite suddenly, startling him. His alarm was followed abruptly with relief - he was okay... "Tom," Harry breathed, brushing damp curls off his forehead. "C'mon, we've got to get out of here right away - there's a Basilisk - here, I'll help you up -"
But Tom did not make a move to stand. Instead, he continued to stare at Harry, his gaze so intense it bordered on unnerving. "Harry Potter," the young man said softly.
"Yes," Harry said urgently, "that's me - listen, we're in the Chamber of Secrets, we've got to go - if the Basilisk comes -"
Fingers against his lips silenced him. Harry blinked down into burning grey eyes, confused, as another hand came up and sifted through his hair. "Harry Potter," Riddle said again, and Harry couldn't read the expression in his gaze as the hand gently guided Harry closer, until his lips were a hair's breadth away from Harry's own. "I've waited a long time for this."
And then a knife slid between Harry's ribs, tearing through tissue and skin like butter, and Harry's scream was lost inside Tom Riddle's kiss, hard and hungry against his mouth.
Lord Voldemort's power to manipulate others stretches beyond your imagination, Dumbledore's voice whispered in Harry's ear. The blade twisted in his gut, blood blooming warm and sticky across his shirt. Stone groaned loudly from above, and then the chamber went dark and cold as the Basilisk emerged, its huge, long body slithering heavily along the floor, hissing its approval. "We couldn't control you," Tom whispered against Harry's mouth, the knife sliding deeper still, "so it was necessary to kill you, after all."
And the Basilisk wrapped around his body, and the chamber rang with Riddle's high, cold laughter, and icy scales pressed against his throat and mouth, suffocating him, strangling him -
Harry awoke with a shout, thrashing violently. Terror ripped through him - because, oh, god, the Basilisk was still there, it was coiled around him, it was going to rip him, kill him. With a cry, Harry threw the serpent from the bed with all of his might, hardly able to think through the weight of his fear.
Voldemort stirred. Fear was snapping through Harry's mind, suddenly struggling against the coils woven tight around his thoughts. Like an arachnid whose web is disturbed, the Dark Lord raced across synapses in search of the terror which made Harry thrash beneath him -
Nagini was on the floor, spitting murder, her body a raised column of open-mouthed fury. "Stop!" he commanded, trying to reign in Harry's panic. But the boy snapped and threw off his authority, ripping Voldemort from his spirit. It burned.
The Dark Lord shrieked as he was thrown back into form. There was no time to shift gracefully back into skin. Instead, it was an excruciating shaping of bone and sinew as his ritual-flesh reformed itself around what was left of his soul. He screamed: it was a return to the boiling torture of the cauldron as blood swirled over the sheets, forming rivers of veins, and white flesh slowly began to slide over red like a ruthlessly tight glove.
The sound of Voldemort's agony sliced through Harry's terror as effectively as the knife in his nightmare. The room slowly came back to Harry's senses - dim, blurry walls, furious snake, large bed - and his panic returned full throttle. Except now it was for the mass of blood and raw skin across the blankets, bubbling white flesh that made Harry feel nauseous with pain just to look at. He stared, horrified and helpless, as the Dark Lord writhed and morphed, magic hissing in the air.
"Voldemort!" His voice was a hoarse cry. Harry clutched at the Dark Lord's arms much like he had clutched the unconscious Tom Riddle in his dream, as though he could hold him together with his fingers, anchor him in reality. "What's happened? What's wrong?"
It was as beautiful as he remembered: that first breath drawn through new lungs. The itchy friction of the blankets, the sweat which layered the hands clutching at his wraith-like limbs, the smell of must; scent, touch, vibration - he was embodied once more. Naked as he had been on the night of his rebirth. Flesh, blood, and bone. He reached skeletal fingers for Harry, hissing "Hush, hush, hush..." to his two precious ones.
"It was a dream, my treasure. Nothing more," Voldemort whispered in silken Parseltongue. "You are safe. There is nothing to fear. My own, my soul..." Nagini slid back onto the bed, quietened by Voldemort, echoing his words as she wrapped around them protectively. "Hush, hush... Mine, mine..."
"But - your body..." The Dark Lord was as smooth and flawless as a pearl beneath Harry's hands. Green eyes widened in horrified fascination as they took in the complete transformation, the Dark Lord's fingers stroked Harry's face and hair. "This isn't about that stupid nightmare! You were just - I was so afraid you were - blimey, I was just looking at your insides! Are you all right? I was so afraid..." Harry trailed off weakly, refusing to release his hold on Voldemort, perhaps lest the Dark Lord begin melting on the bed again.
The lipless mouth stretched into a small smile. I was so afraid. The fierce feelings emanating from their connection pleased Lord Voldemort immensely. Such concern... faith would soon follow. Voldemort leaned into Harry's touch, brushing his smooth, flat face across the boy's palms. "The shock of your nightmare forced me out of your mind without the time for me to - for want of a better word - collect myself. It can be an abrupt and painful transition when made involuntarily. Do not fear, Harry. I am immortal, and the pain does not linger." The smile widened, and Voldemort's livid eyes gleamed with strange excitement. "In fact, I rather welcome it. Such agonies are nothing compared to the triumph of resurrection."
Harry stared at Voldemort, feeling quite helpless. "Erm... If you say so." He wondered if he would ever understand the Dark Lord. Just when he thought he was beginning to get close, Voldemort would go and throw something like this at him.
"I'm sorry," Harry went on quietly. "I never meant to hurt you. I get - bad dreams sometimes, and they can be..." Night after night of awakening in the Gryffindor dormitory, clawing at his burning scar until it bled, the strange, guarded looks that would pass from Seamus to Neville to Dean.
Debilitating. The boy looked away, suddenly unwilling to pursue this train of thought.
"Harry, Harry... why apologise when it is Lord Voldemort of whom you dream?" Pale fingers found the boy's chin and lifted his gaze to meet the slit-pupilled, scarlet eyes which graced the nightmares of so many. "I terrify you still. It is no easy thing, this... connection between you and I."
"I'm not afraid of you," Harry said, frowning. "I mean, I used to be, but my dreams are... different now. I'm afraid of -" (the Basilisk opening its jaws, Voldemort's lifeless body floating in a sea of blood, Tom Riddle's eyes bereft of warmth and kindness) "- something happening to you. Something that would take you away from me. And I know you could hurt me very badly if you wanted to. Probably more than you could before. But you said that you wouldn't hurt me, and I... I trust you. And I'm not afraid of you." It felt safe, somehow, saying such things while curled up in bed with the Dark Lord. Harry didn't need any of his Gryffindor courage to speak; he was merely stating facts.
Part of Voldemort exulted in the burgeoning trust Harry had in him. But another part regarded lack of terror in those bespectacled emerald eyes with cold anger. The Dark Lord's sharp, pale features were very like Tom Riddle in that moment: filled with sullen, wary suspicion. Fear was a most effective instrument of control - it did not please him to see Harry free of it. He resented the boy's casual tone. It troubled him... and things which troubled Lord Voldemort needed to be rearranged.
"Why?" his high voice was filled with the irritation of ignorance.
Harry knew well the look on Lord Voldemort's face: it was the very same Dudley wore on the rare occasion Aunt Petunia didn't give him his way. He also knew that this expression was usually followed by a temper tantrum involving heavy things being thrown in Harry's direction.
"Well - that's not to say you're not scary," Harry said quickly, quashing his smile before it could make it to his lips. "You scare me all the time. I'm just - afraid of different things now, y'know? Because I care about you. Hey - don't look so glum," he added, unable to keep the grin from his face now, "It's a good thing! We wouldn't have much fun together if I were frightened of you all the time. You can't have both."
"I see. We have... fun... together." Voldemort's mask-like face was eerily expressionless. "I was under the impression that we spend most of our time in a state of frustrated antagonism, punctuated by occasional moments of adrenalin-fuelled delirium." The Dark Lord paused, his smile mocking. "I must say, Harry, your notion of fun leaves something to be desired. Ah, but doubtless you would say the same thing of me."
Harry snorted. "Well, that's because you don't have any fun. Reading books all day isn't fun for anyone, unless you're Hermione. And you're a lot more exciting than she is." He paused, a challenging smile beginning to grow across his face. "Here's an idea - how about you show me how you like to have fun, and then I can show you the real way. And if neither of us has a good time, you can just go back to, er, antagonising me, and I'll go back to being terrified out of my wits."
"I resent your implication that I have lost this wager before it has even begun." Voldemort stood, tall, moon-pale, and skeletal, taking his wand from beside the bed and robing himself with a swish of yew. Silk spun out of the air around him, rustling into layers of severe black. The Dark Lord's cat-like pupils glared down at the boy still sitting on the bed. "I assure you, Harry, that by the time we are through my sense of fun shall be unquestionable."
"Right." Harry snatched his own wand from the bedside table, leaping up to his full height - which was only a few inches above Voldemort's shoulder. The Gryffindor looked very much as he did just before a Quidditch match: shoulders squared, spine straight, brow furrowed with determination. Only the small, knowing smile curling his lips indicated otherwise. "And I say you'll be wondering how you ever went so long without having a truly good time! Only..." The boy paused, facade breaking as he gave the Dark Lord an apologetic grin. "Perhaps we could have some breakfast first?"
"Certainly," Voldemort replied after a moment's pause. In truth, he had grown so used to subsisting off small doses of venom and blood, that he had quite forgotten Harry was a boy to whom he was required to feed actual food. Wonderful. Now he would have two Horcruxes pestering him for food every hour of the day. Wait for it... wait for it...
"Master, Nagini is hungry... yes, yes... Nagini wants tasty human Master promised... yes, yes!"
The Dark Lord stifled a sigh and strode into the other room. Aside from a narrow, peeling door, its walls were entirely covered with shelves. There were two rickety chairs piled high with books on potion-making. Ingredients in jars and boxes cluttered the shelves and hung from the ceiling, several different cauldrons were neatly stacked in the corner, and a long, high bench on stood in the middle of the room. The whole place had a feeling of highly organised mess. As though someone very meticulous had arranged everything to give the effect of comfortable disarray. If one looked carefully, it was noticeable that the books were stacked in alphabetical order and the ingredients were organised by properties. A bruise-coloured shrunken head with its sewn-up eyes and awful, distended lips was nailed above the door.
The Dark Lord immediately set to work summoning the ingredients he needed. A tray and a tiny cauldron floated out of a drawer and onto the bench. Voldemort gestured with his wand and the smooth metal of the cauldron began to heat until it was scalding. Another few charms and the tray curled into a bowl and the cauldron filled with steaming water. The bowl, slicked with oil, settled neatly atop the cauldron as eggs materialised and cracked tidily in, whisking themselves around in the bowl. Bottles of herbs jumped off shelves and an old-fashioned Muggle tin of powdered milk tipped itself open, mixing with water in the air until it became creamy and descended to swirl into the eggs.
Voldemort, meanwhile, was busily summoning a dead goat from his trunk, resizing and unfreezing it for the huge, eager snake coiling affectionately around his ankles as Harry's scrambled eggs shifted themselves neatly onto a plate. He spelled the front door open, letting in bright light, birdsong, breeze, and the sound of waves crashing on the sand. The Dark Lord shut his eyes and levitated the goat outside, shutting the door again behind Nagini with a graceful flick of the yew wand as he poured himself a goblet of thick silvery-white liquid.
While Voldemort was busy with cooking charmwork that could put both Mrs. Weasley and Aunt Petunia's combined efforts to shame, Harry took the opportunity to look around.
It was mind-boggling, the sheer amount of things Voldemort had packed into a single room - and useful, academic things, too, so far as Harry could tell. It was no wonder a young, knowledge-thirsty Severus Snape had been attracted to Voldemort's cause; all the Dark Lord probably had to do was show him his potions storeroom. For Voldemort seemed to have his own private apothecary: roots and newts and eggs and beetles of every colour, shape and size. There was even a jar filled with what looked suspiciously like whole human fingernails. Harry shuddered as he wondered how Voldemort had procured those.
And then there were books, so many that Harry couldn't help but wonder if the Dark Lord had actually taken the time to read all of them. There were dictionaries and essays, cookbooks and encyclopaedias, notebooks in Voldemort's handwriting with strange names and hand-drawn symbols on the covers. There were books that looked positively ancient, and books in languages Harry had never seen, books that had been translated by Voldemort himself, and books with no authors at all. Harry couldn't imagine ever finding the time to read so many books - even the ones with the interesting titles. Had Voldemort really read all of these for fun?
Harry smirked. Overall, there was nothing here that suggested Voldemort knew anything about having a good time. This would be a piece of cake.
A plate heaped with eggs nudged at Harry's side, and the boy's stomach gave a grumble, reminding him of just how long it had been since his last meal. But he hesitated when he caught sight of the fork that came with it.
"Erm..." Harry stared at the silver utensil with equal parts disgust and fascination. A miniature skeleton was wrapped around the handle, arms twisting up the neck to the prongs. Its body had been forced into an unnatural position, and its jaw was agape in silent laughter ... or a scream.
Harry looked from the levitating plate of breakfast to Voldemort to the plate again, trying to figure out if the Dark Lord was serious. "You seem to have misplaced your... ritual heart-carving skeleton... thing."
"What?" Voldemort asked distractedly, finishing off his potion and licking the silvery residue from the edges of his colourless mouth. The taste of venom and unicorn blood was always invigorating. The Dark Lord pulled open a drawer, taking out a long, curved, obsidian carving knife which glittered strangely. It was engraved with images of skeletal Aztec figures liberating the hearts of sacrificial victims in order to reunite them with Tonatiuh - the heart-soul of the sun - as their transformed hearts flew sunward on trails of blood. "I have not-"
His livid eyes widened as he caught sight the fork held in Harry's reluctant fingers. Voldemort's taut leer was as sharp and wicked as the blade in his hand. "Ah - that utensil has no ritual significance. It has no purpose beyond the aesthetic, I assure you." Amusement hid in the corners of the Dark Lord's thin smile. "You do not find it... fun?"
"Um..." Harry couldn't find a way to hold it that didn't make him feel uncomfortable, like he was somehow violating the corpse the silver was depicting. He eventually settled for grasping it daintily about the knees, touching only with his thumb and middle finger. "I s'pose if you like the idea of a dead bloke bumping against your chin every time you want some eggs." He wrinkled his nose, examining it with open-mouthed horror. "Is that - a tail? How is this even remotely fun?"
Voldemort placed the Aztec knife carefully back in its proper draw and levitated a pile of books off a chair for Harry to sit on. "Well, perhaps fun is an exaggeration, but the look on your face certainly provides amusement enough." He covered his mouth with a pale hand, muffling chilly laughter.
It took Harry a few long seconds of gaping before he realised that Voldemort was actually laughing at him.
"You!" Harry made a half-hearted attempt at a scowl, but the urge to grin stupidly was simply too overwhelming. "You're having me on!" Perhaps Harry had underestimated him. A disbelieving laugh escaped the boy's lips before he could school his face into an expression he hoped was disapproving. But a smile still itched at the corners of his lips as Harry gratefully accepted the seat the Dark Lord had cleared for him, setting the plate of eggs on his lap.
"The premise was good, but the execution could use some work." Harry tapped his fingers thoughtfully against his chin. "It would have been much more effective if you'd used the actual ritual knife. Not to mention, y'know, detailing the very grisly history of all the organs you've dissected with it. But I'm sure you'll get the hang of it if you keep practicing."
"Yes, but that would involve the expectation that you will be able eat eggs with a carving knife, which is ridiculous." Voldemort rolled his eyes. "Not to mention that ingesting anything cut with a cursed obsidian blade is decidedly unwise." The Dark Lord shook his head and transfigured the knife and fork back into plain silver utensils. "Still, your confidence in my raw talent is gratifying. Doubtless these details are comparatively unimportant."
Now that he was equipped with a more appropriate utensil, Harry did not hesitate to dig into the scrambled eggs Voldemort had prepared for him. The warmth of the Dark Lord's smile still glowed in his skin. Harry resolved to do everything he could to make Voldemort laugh like that again.
"Details are always important for the smoothest possible execution." Harry swallowed and grinned. "But you certainly show some promise. With the proper instruction, you might even turn out to be one of the best!" He paused, his smile curling into something sly and secret. "You'll have to do better than that if you think you're going to beat me today, though."
"Indeed?" Voldemort conjured another chair and summoned several journals. He took copious notes the last time he was on this atoll and it would be wise to consult them if he intended to win this bet. He leafed through the Naacal grammar he'd compiled. Harry might scorn reading books, but proper preparation was necessary for every endeavour. It was possible he might be taking the boy into considerable danger, after all. That was what Gryffindors found fun, was it not? He refocused on the archaic scripts on the paper before him, trying to refreshing his rusted vocabulary.
As Harry finished off the remainder of his eggs - which were unexpectedly tasty - his gaze was drawn repeatedly back to Voldemort, who was poring over a few of the notebooks Harry had noticed in his earlier explorations. The boy couldn't help his smile. Voldemort was taking this all very seriously. Well, if there was anything this Gryffindor was good at, it was a competition... and he did not intend to lose this one.
"I'll understand if you've changed your mind, y'know." Harry leaned forward on his knees, peeking over the top of one of the Dark Lord's journals. Voldemort's elegant handwriting was immediately recognisable, surrounded by strange symbols and translations in the Dark Lord's hand. "Er, especially if you're planning on giving me a language lesson. I'd rather just skip to the part where I've won, in that case."
The Dark Lord did not look up, his long white fingers sliding carefully across the parchment. "There may be a language component to my plan, but it is merely an incidental part of the - ah - fun, I assure you."
"Don't sound so reassuring. I might actually start to get excited." Harry threw a grin at Voldemort - still absorbed in his notes, hardly paying his Horcrux any mind - and set his empty plate on the table in the middle of the room. A long stretch shook off the remnants of sleep from his muscles. Despite their rather rude awakening, Harry felt well-rested and content. He had slept remarkably well for having done so with a Dark Lord embracing his mind. In fact, falling asleep with Voldemort curled up around his soul had been... peaceful. Easy. Comfortable in ways that made Harry uncomfortable to think very much about.
"Right," said Harry, deciding it was far too early in the morning to blush. "I think there's a rule somewhere that fun should never require this much reading. Just a hint, since you're so new at this."
Voldemort closed his notes and set them aside. "Very well. Did you pack garments for swimming or shall I transfigure something for you?"
"Swimming?" Harry's eyebrows shot up into his black fringe in delighted surprise. Now that was more like it. "Well, we don't swim very often at school - but I might have -" Without waiting for a reply, the boy dashed into the other room. He burst back through the door again not a minute later, bright-eyed and grinning in a pair of Gryffindor red swimming shorts, wand tucked neatly into the waistband. They were a bit small around the waist; Harry had not had occasion to swim since the Triwizard Tournament "Where are yours?"
Voldemort stood and tapped his sleeve with his yew wand. The black robes began to shift and meld around his tall frame, rolling like molten tar over his feet and hands, lengthening even further into the abnormally spindly, webbed fingers and toes of a Grindylow. From his pale neck down, the Dark Lord was now a sleek, black water demon.
The over-long hands drew on a cloak and lowered the hood. A misty shadow drew across his features like a veil, obscuring everything but the faint, red gleam of his eyes. Perhaps this was Voldemort's solution to the problem he had had with the sunlight. "Come." He opened the door and offered Harry his strangely elongated fingers.
Between the bestial, webbed fingers and the shroud that looked more fit for a funeral than a frolic on the beach, Harry was beginning to doubt his initial excitement. Nevertheless, he accepted Voldemort's proffered hand with a smile. He, Harry, had been the one to make the terms of their agreement, after all. It was only fair that Voldemort had his chance before Harry utterly trounced him.
They made quite a pair - Voldemort dark and sinister against sand as white as the snow they'd left behind in Britain, Harry bounding alongside him wearing nothing but a pair of bold red shorts. The sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue, the air fresh and salty. Harry shone in the morning sunlight, glowing with the prospect of an entire day laid out before them - and with only the purpose of having a good time together! No classes, no Snape, and no war. It was hard to remember all the reasons he had thought this a bad idea.
With the promise of a swim, Harry had expected Voldemort to lead him toward the shoreline. So when the Dark Lord headed further into the forest instead, Harry hesitated, frowning. "Er - the water's that way!" he called out, hurrying to keep up with Voldemort's long strides.
Voldemort glided through the tropical forest like a spectre, brightly-coloured birds taking flight from the trees around him. He seemed to unsettle even the tiny lizards and insects, which darted away from underfoot. "This island is a coral atoll, Harry. It was formed by a reef growing up around the edges of a volcano. Then, when the tectonic pressure which raised the volcano ceased, it slowly sank back into the ocean, leaving behind the ring of coral which encircled it. Our destination is the vast lagoon just beyond this forest, where an ancient sorcerous civilisation once dwelled on the slopes of this isle."
Harry felt even clumsier than usual, clambering loudly through branches and bushes while Voldemort navigated the forest floor with easy elegance. It wasn't fair. Voldemort seemed to be better than him at everything, even something so simple as taking a stroll through the woods. The gentle pounding of the tide against the shore fell into the distance as the trees thickened around them, the ocean's lull gradually replaced by the humming of summer insects and the chatter of the birds overhead.
"An ancient civilisation." There was a touch of incredulity to Harry's voice. Leave it to Voldemort to go all out. "Maybe I've underestimated you. That does sound... a little more interesting than reading all day." In fact, it sounded brilliant. Not that Harry would be admitting this to Voldemort anytime soon - at least not until he'd been beaten fair and square. Harry tried his hardest to mask his excitement.
"I nearly drowned in the lake once," he added conversationally. "You know, that time you entered me in that notoriously lethal tournament when I was only fourteen." The space behind his ears twinged painfully at the memory of gills shrinking on his neck, lungs spasming with lack of oxygen. Harry wrinkled his nose. "I hope we won't be using Gillyweed. That wasn't, um, very much fun."
As Harry talked, they stepped through the trees to the sandy edge of the wide, flat waters of the lagoon. His mouth dropped open, bitterness forgotten. The sight was an arresting one: a huge body of clear, still water, shining brilliant blue in the sunlight, that stretched far into the distance. Harry splashed in up to his shins, delighted by the ripples his movements made in its glassy surface. He wriggled his toes in the sand. Was there really an ancient civilisation buried in the depths of these peaceful waters? "What would you prefer, my treasure?" Voldemort asked, a tall shadow on the shore. "I could cast a Bubble-Head Charm or transfigure you into a Merman...?"
"This is - wow, this is really beautiful!" Harry grinned over his shoulder with breathless awe at the Dark Lord before he realised Voldemort had asked him a question. "Oh, um - I think I'll go with the Bubble-Head Charm." Somehow, he didn't think a metamorphosis from human to Merman would be any more pleasant than sprouting gills.
Voldemort discarded his cloak on the sand and waded out into the water. The veil of darkness lifted and Voldemort's moon-pale face was visible above his dark, amphibian body, shining in the sunlight, his smooth eyelids firmly shut. The Dark Lord's Grindylow feet instinctively left the sand and began to swim as his sleek, black body swirled with sinuous ease through the shallows.
Come here, Voldemort called to his mind, weaving their latent connection tighter as he held out a spindly, webbed hand for Harry to take, reaching out blindly. A frisson of fear and excitement shivered down Harry's spine. He obediently slipped his hand between the Dark Lord's strange, black fingers. We will rely upon our mental link in order to communicate underwater. I shall also require that you obey any command I may have cause to give. We are a far from the Hogwarts lake and ruins are not the only legacy from antiquity this place holds, understood?
"All right," he began to say, before remembering they were supposed to be communicating through thought. All right. Harry smiled apologetically. Not that Voldemort could see, eyes squeezed shut as they were. The smile grew into something soft and admiring. Voldemort had left Britain for him, was standing sightless and gruesomely transfigured in blinding sunlight - all to make him, Harry, happy. Overcome by an unexpected surge of affection, the boy reached up and captured Voldemort's mouth in a kiss.
I'll be very careful. Promise. He pressed his smile against the Dark Lord's thin lips. And I'll even listen to everything you say. But we'd better not be too careful - if you want any chance at beating me, anyway.
Voldemort leaned into the kiss, and Harry could taste something sweet and metallic on his tongue. He revelled for a few minutes more in the warm, wet intimacies offered by Voldemort's mouth, before the Dark Lord broke the kiss to carefully place the tip of his wand on Harry's nose. A hissed incantation, and then a bubble floated free of the yew wand, attaching itself ponderously to Harry's face, protecting his lungs and glasses. The world grew distorted and strange as the bubble surrounded his head, sealing around his neck. Harry raised a tentative hand to touch it, suddenly anxious. What if it popped while he was underwater? Did he only have a certain amount of time before he'd run out of oxygen? He looked up to ask - just in time to see the Dark Lord vanishing underwater, a dark shape streaking, shark-like, beneath the surface and into the lagoon, his darkly scaled body racing with inhuman grace - down, down - scattering schools of jewel-coloured fish.
Well, that wouldn't do. Shaking off his apprehensions, Harry pulled his wand from his swim trunks and dove in after him - although he couldn't quite resist taking an instinctive deep breath before dipping his head underwater.
The lagoon, so deceptively peaceful and still from the shore, was a jungle of colours and sea life beneath the surface. The bubble charm no longer distorted his vision but made his eyesight crystal clear; Harry could see every stripe on every fish, the swaying polyps of coral reefs, a fluther of spotted jellyfish - and (another thrill of excitement, giving him goosebumps in the warm water) the deep, dark depths below, which whispered promises of all sorts of adventures and interesting sights to behold.
But Harry was beginning to regret his hasty dismissal of Gillyweed and Mermen. His hands and feet were not webbed as they'd been during the Triwizard Tournament, so his movements underwater were sluggish and awkward. Not like Voldemort, whose new skin went from disturbing and silly above the surface to beautiful and sleek here in the lagoon, spinning and flipping as gracefully as a native Grindylow. Hey! A laugh escaped Harry's mouth, a flurry of bubbles exploding from the larger one encasing his face. That's not fair - I can't swim nearly as fast as you!
When did the world become fair? Voldemort's long, blackly-webbed fingers latched playfully around the boy's ankles and pulled him downward much like a real water demon would seize its prey. Sharp teeth nipped playfully at Harry's calves as Voldemort's livid eyes glimmered almost purple in the water.
As they sank, the Dark Lord shifted his grip. His right arm was wrapped tightly around Harry's waist as he extended his wand hand to light the way, using his powerful webbed feet to propel them further toward the bottom. Tiny fish brushed against them, feeding on luminous coral and vibrant green algae. Voldemort did not allow himself to become too distracted, however, alert for larger predators and the eerie guardians of the lagoon's secrets.
And there - far below as the pink and orange coral beneath them gave way to clear, blue water - were the ruins. Sprawling monolithic stones; labyrinthine streets and stately steps sunken into the sand. Magic beckoned with a pulsing call to shattered, many-pillared temples of the once-proud acropolis grown dark-slimed and inchoate with the passing of millennia.
"Wow." The word was carried on a rush of air as all the breath fled from Harry's lungs. His wild excitement, which had held him captivated as Voldemort spiralled them downward through the water, drained away; there was only awe, staggering in the face of the vast, crumbling city stretched out across the lagoon's floor.
What is this? Harry asked as soon as he remembered how he was supposed to be communicating. Who lived here? What happened to them? The ruins were void of the bustling sea life that painted the salt water in bright colours above their heads. The deep, aching pull of ancient magic radiated from the city below in powerful waves.
For the first time, Harry found himself wondering if this was a good idea.
He trusted Voldemort's judgment, of course - not to mention the Dark Lord's ability to defend them should they fall into danger - but Harry had been thrust into enough bad situations in the past to know when things weren't quite as they should be.
It is the remnants of the beginnings of magic. Magic before wands or spells. But hush, its guardians approach. Do nothing, my treasure.
And, as he spoke, misted green and pearly-toothed shapes ghosted up from the depths. They were naked and wretched with livid, bulging eyes, and pouty, flabby lips. Corpses wreathed in weed, as ancient and unsettling as the terraced, stone apertures from which they came. Swollen and pale like the Inferi Voldemort had enchanted to guard Slytherin's locket.
These were twisted creatures born of magic so ancient as to be palaeogean. Yet their glassy eyes were aglow with a strange, phosphorescent radiance, flickering like undersea firelight. The dead formed into monstrous servitors by rituals lost to time. The Dark Lord had long searched for the key to their existence - a true necromantic harnessing of body and soul. Power glittered in their malformed claws as they stared at the Dark Lord and his Horcrux.
Awful lips whispered with lyrical voices akin to the water-song of Mermish. Voldemort's Grindylow fingers tightened around Harry's waist as he swam forward to meet them.
His high, cold reply was spoken in a voice of absolute command. Naacal bubbled from the Dark Lord's lips, guttural and eerie. Its meaning sounded loud across the link he and Harry shared: That is not dead which may eternal lie and with strange aeons even death may die.
The creatures shrieked excitedly and bowed in ritual obeisance, ghosting back down into the ruins below like a school of malformed, grey-green fish, leaving Voldemort and his Horcrux alone in the deep silence of the lagoon.
Harry's eyes followed the bloated sea creatures until they were completely out of sight, but he didn't feel any better when they were gone. His mind was racing, trying to decipher the cryptic meaning behind Voldemort's words. And with strange aeons even death may die. Harry shuddered in Voldemort's arms; all this talk about death wasn't very much fun. When he'd suggested a day having a good time together, he hadn't anticipated they'd be spending the morning underwater with animated corpses.
Harry tore his gaze from the ruins, which were silent and still once more. He was overflowing with questions, excitement tentatively reawakening in the absence of those horrible creatures. What were those things? What did they want? Will they attack us?
As I said, it is their duty to guard this place until the day their masters reawaken. They shall not trouble us further. Voldemort's nostrils were flaring excitedly, air bubbling from the small, reptilian slits, as he pointed with his wand at the dead city sprawling beneath them. It is said that the first Horcrux was created by Herpo of Athens, but my studies have shown that the practice originated in far earlier cultures. This was a civilisation based on magic's oldest form: sacrifice. I do not think your mother knew what power she invoked that fateful night. It is only in places such as this that it is possible to begin to understand such ancient laws. It was here that I found a carving depicting the ingredients necessary for my rebirth and it is here we must search if we wish to discover more about the bond we share.
An old wound rankled in Harry's chest, and he found himself suddenly and unexpectedly angry. Of course his mother hadn't known! She would have never sacrificed her life for Harry's if she'd had any idea that she was binding her son to a monster in the process! A vicious, resentful part of him wanted to shake himself completely from the Dark Lord's embrace; he was enraged that Voldemort could speak of her death with such flippancy. I'm glad you find her murder so fascinating, he spat over the connection before he could stop himself.
But then he forced himself to pause and count to ten before he said something he'd regret. Voldemort wasn't a monster. He wasn't. Lily Potter hadn't known that - but if she had, Harry was sure she would have been proud of what her son was doing, of all the lives he was saving and the poor, loveless boy he was slowly nurturing back to life. Right. He took a deep breath of the fresh air provided by Voldemort's bubble charm and tried to make himself sound sincere. Sorry. That sounds - very exciting.
Harry... Anger and disgust washed across their link, shocking the Dark Lord. This was meant to be enjoyable. He had thought the boy would be pleased - as Voldemort had been many years ago - to come to such a place and study the oldest forms of magic from the carved, stone murals of this ancient place of power. Few wizards ever dreamed of visiting such arcane splendour - of delving into the secret essence of magic itself!
But Harry was not like him. Voldemort was reminded of how he would drive away the children in to orphanage without knowing why: the look on Amy's face when he dispassionately skewered a mouse with his fork. She had been shrieking get it, get it, get it! And he had killed it for her. Yet when the little rodent gave a final squeak and Tom looked up at her with a smile, it was not gratitude but horrified revulsion he received in return. He had despised her after that. A small-minded and ungrateful girl. I did not... intend it that way... if this place does not please you...?
No, it's - not that. Harry sighed in a long stream of bubbles and shifted in Voldemort's arms; floating in the water without the burden of gravity, the movement brought his nose inches from the Dark Lord's face. This is all very exciting. It's just... difficult, sometimes. Harry's gaze hardened. You killed them. You killed my parents. And you aren't even the least bit sorry for it. You'll never understand how hard that is for me.
He did not know what to say. False apologies would only infuriate Harry further. Voldemort could not deny that he felt nothing for the boy's parents, the Mudblood's Muggle father, or - indeed - his own Muggle father dead at his hands. All of them dead and rotting in the ground. The Dark Lord could not count all of the wide-eyed gazes he had frozen with blinding, green light. Guilt was for the weak. A useless emotion which preyed upon those whose will was not strong enough to stand proudly by their deeds.
The world was fashioned in blood and strife. Predator and prey. A great carnival of death. He was far wiser than all of those who pretended to fairness or morality - all of them hiding from the truth. Was it not a blessing to be born free of such feeble illusions?
Voldemort resented Harry's glare, as he had resented the orphanage staff, Professor Dumbledore, and little Amy Benson. He led Amy into a cave by the sea and showed her something to merit her horror. So many voices: you do not understand... woefully ignorant... you will remain down here and think about what you've done... you monster... not like the other children... you'll never understand...
Stop it. Harry's words cut through the voices, a mental knife. He held the pale face in both of his hands, pressed his forehead against Voldemort's so that the only thing separating them was the thin, magical bubble. Green eyes bore into crimson. You're not a monster. You've shown me that. You're not. I need you to believe that for me. He took a deep, unsteady breath. It just... hurts sometimes... that I'll never get to know them, that I'll - never learn their favourite songs, or ask them how they fell in love, or talk to them about - anything, anything at all... His eyes squeezed shut, and when he opened them again, there was a plea shining in their depths. Don't you know what it's like to lose something? Wouldn't you feel - pain, or sadness, if you lost Nagini? If you lost - me?
It was a long moment before Voldemort spoke: When I was younger, I felt as you do. Like you, I had no photographs. I imagined them, wondered what sort of people they were. When Professor Dumbledore told me I was a wizard, I was so convinced my magical blood must come from the Riddles because, if my mother had been a witch she would never have died from such a common thing as childbirth. She would have used her power to stay with me. I hated them for leaving me, and when I discovered my father's betrayal and my mother's magic I only hated them more.
I have lost many things. I have lost words, voices, thoughts... My diary and my grandfather's ring... lost. My soul, my powers, my body... lost. Yet I did not feel sadness. Only agony and hatred. But even pain has finally lost its hold over me. It is proof of life - of continued existence. Everything burns away in the end. Only Lord Voldemort remains. Hated and hating. Immortal.
A shudder passed over him, chasing gooseflesh across Harry's skin. True darkness, huge and hungry and threatening to consume what little was left of Voldemort's mind, glowered at Harry through scarlet eyes. The Basilisk, slowly squeezing the life from a gasping Tom Riddle even as it shielded him from emotions too painful for Voldemort to accept.
I don't believe you. Harry's voice was vehement across their connection, his eyes blazing fiercely. There's more to you than hate. I've seen it and I've touched it and I've held it in my arms. It's all right to be sad, Tom - it's alright to feel pain. To feel pain and sadness means that you can also feel happiness, and love. It means that you're - human.
Dumbledore's words still rang fresh in Harry's mind. The pain of losing Sirius was a wound that had not quite yet begun to scar over. But the terrible grief he'd experienced upon Sirius' death was incomparable to the comfort he had found in his godfather while he'd still been alive. Sirius wouldn't have wanted Harry to wallow in his pain until it numbed him, to forget the happy memories they'd shared just so Harry wouldn't need to feel the ache of his loss. He would have wanted Harry to grow, to use both the good times Sirius had given him and the pain that came with them to make himself stronger.
There's nothing wrong with being human, Harry's voice whispered inside Voldemort's mind, reaching for the humanity he knew still existed there. Immortality would be pretty miserable if you're spending your eternity entrenched in hatred. He gripped Voldemort tighter, desperation twisting his face. There's so much more to you than hate. And I won't give up until I know you see that, too.
A shadow passed across Voldemort - perhaps a shark, far above, eclipsing the light for a moment. He felt naked, suddenly oppressed by the pale, struggling gills beneath his jaw, the weight of the water all around him and Harry's fierce grip on his senses. The boy's words choked him, disgusted him. He was not human. It had been a relief to shed the skin, hair, and eyes that belonged to his Muggle father and become something greater. It had been a relief to gaze into the mirror, accept that he was not a man but some other creature entirely, and absolve himself of the burden of pretence. He had let his mask fall a long time ago and relished the terror in all those who looked upon Lord Voldemort.
His heart was thumping wildly; he was snared in Harry's emotions, which felt like a net tightening inside his chest. Voldemort was chained to the boy's desperate hopes and it hurt. The Dark Lord shrieked, thrashing against the soul that held his mind fast in its embrace. You will never find that which you seek. You will only find your reflection.
He was a parasite feeding off Harry's happiness. It was the only reason the boy was here and not safely locked away where no one would find him. He wanted Harry to be happy... happy with him. Not because he cared about the boy. Not because of some nebulous impulse toward humanity. Voldemort did not care about anyone but himself. But when this foolish child was happy a long-dead part of Voldemort felt it too and that made Harry precious beyond words.
You are all that is human about me, Harry. You are my kindness, my sadness, and my joy. Without you, I am everything you fear and despise. You are the only light you will ever see in my eyes.
The Dark Lord's sliver of soul, withered and thin, flailed within Harry's thoughts, resisting - and Harry refused to let go. He held Tom's spirit close to his heart, stroking it with memories of their laughter - with aren't you happy now, as well? and the Dark Lord's giggles interspersed with owl noises and long, breath-taking kisses that made everything else seem irrelevant. Spurred on by the Horcrux's advice, Harry would not back down; he would not let Voldemort convince him otherwise.
Don't you feel it? The words slipped out in a blend of Parseltongue and bubbles, even as he murmured them within Voldemort's struggling mind. He held the Dark Lord's face between his hands in the dark water, staring intently into red eyes. When we're together, I feel... whole inside. Like there's this chunk of me missing, and when I get you to laugh, or smile... there isn't anything that could make me happier. I feel complete. He smiled softly. Don't you see? I couldn't feel this way without you feeling so as well. That's no reflection. It's always been here, in your soul - you just needed someone to show you where to look.
He broke, Harry's relentless onslaught of words and feelings shattering his defences. But Voldemort knew, he knew this burning, torturous hope had never existed before Harry. And he was afraid - so afraid - that it would vanish and he would be alone once more. That was why it was so necessary that Harry understand, that Harry accept the he had sole custody over Lord Voldemort's frail sanity and cease insisting otherwise, that Harry promise him...
The eighth part of my soul... Keep it safe for me, Harry. Promise me. It is such a fragile, frayed thing you have shown me. You asked me what I would feel if I lost you? You know, you know what I am... what would follow... The words might have been a threat but for the desperate plea that rushed to find sanctuary in the certainty of Harry's thoughts.
Eight pieces of soul. Harry felt a little weak in the knees; he might have needed to sit down if they weren't floating, weightless, at the bottom of the lagoon. No wonder Voldemort's mind seemed so shattered. How could one expect him to feel empathy and compassion when there was so little left of him to feel? Harry thought it wondrous Voldemort knew any emotion at all.
It's a part of me now. I'll care for it with my life. I promise. He pulled Voldemort tighter against him, and they spun a little in the water. But you have to promise me that you'll take care of your own soul, too. That you'll let me help you. That you'll try - really try - so we can heal it. Together.
Voldemort gazed through the sheen of protective bubble that clung to Harry's features. Such ignorance - such innocence. The boy, naked but for his small trunks, wrapped himself around the Dark Lord with that same daring, terrified gaze he had encountered on the night of his rebirth. As he stared, Voldemort felt his (or were they Harry's?) desperate emotions drain away to be replaced with a great weariness.
Many wizards made much of the fact that Harry Potter had his Mudblood mother's eyes. Voldemort had never really noticed. His memories of Mrs Potter were of a pale, pleading woman with a swathe of dark red hair swirling about her as she threw her arms wide to shield her son. Now - looking at her earnest, foolish child - he saw again her green eyes desperate with love for her offspring and how similar they were, mother and son. How trusting, how stupid... how remarkably brave. I'll care for it with my life.
Was this Albus Dumbledore's vaunted love staring out at him? Voldemort's lipless mouth curved into a bitter smile, small bubbles issuing from his small, flat nostrils and clinging to the pearly angles of his cruelly emaciated features. It was, all of it, too much: Harry's absolute faith that the Dark Lord was something which could be fixed ... sewn back together like a tattered cloak ... never seeming to realise that such things were part of Voldemort's very substance. When Voldemort spoke of insanity, he meant the forest which had ground his once polished mind down to ungovernable rage ... not the clear, cold rightness which he had always known before.
He was Lord Voldemort, not a broken thing in need of Harry Potter's help. Except that was exactly what he was. It scared him into silence. All his life he had fought to be self-reliant; independent of his own kind ... and now he was bound to Harry, required Harry in a way that Harry would never require him. Something was crumbling inside him ... the wall of fierce pride that had kept so much at bay for so long. And, as it fell, so too fell the convictions that had buttressed it: I am Lord Voldemort, I need nothing and no one, I contain everything I could ever desire... revealing the naked flame of hateful need that he had long thought extinguished by lack of hope.
Harry loves you; Voldemort remembered the words, they welled up as though from a dream. But Potter did not ... could not. All Harry saw was something in need of help, someone to save. The boy had cracked open his skull and found all the miseries, doubts, and insecurities that lay behind the legend of the immortal Dark Lord. What was love but a fancy, a sickness that blinded wizard and Muggle alike to the realities of the world? The serpent in him rejected it utterly - this foreign emotion that had no place in his solitary world.
Harry did not know that what he asked for could never be, but instead of disillusioning him, Voldemort - perhaps for the first time in his life - wanted to preserve such innocence. Guard it against the black truth that would see it torn asunder. It was his.
So he smiled at Harry as though he were hysterical with joy, as though the hopehopehope burning in the boy's heart (how easy it was to drown himself in such emotion, to pretend it was his own) did not hurt him. And, oh, how could he tell Harry he would rather be a monster than feel this...? He held the boy tighter, livid eyes raw with determination. Nothing would take this from him.
I promise, he replied. And, for a moment, he almost believed his own lie.
Voldemort's gaze glowed scarlet, dying embers suddenly rekindled from a breath of fresh air. Eyes full of promise as Voldemort swore to him. And the sincerity - the genuine and honest purpose that Harry saw there kindled its own hope in Harry's heart. Such determination in those eyes was usually only accompanied by the Dark Lord's thirst for blood pounding agony in his scar... but today, it was not distorted by the madness that typically shrouded the burning crimson like black smoke.
Voldemort wanted this. Harry could see the strength of the Dark Lord's resolve in his eyes, his thoughts. Voldemort wanted this, and he would honestly, truly try, just for Harry. And if Voldemort really set his mind to it, Harry had no doubt he would accomplish whatever task was laid before him, even one as impossible as this.
Impossibility was only another challenge, after all - hadn't Voldemort said as much himself?
Thank you. Harry pressed tender bubble kisses to Tom's gaunt face, holding the strange, dark Grindylow body against his own and sending them swirling gently sideways. I won't give up until you're better, I promise, he whispered, and felt the magic of the ruins below clinging to his words, sparking against them. I have so much faith in you. I won't let you down.
Harry would show him how to love. He would show the Dark Lord compassion and happiness. And, in doing so, Voldemort would come to understand the horror of murder, would never want to kill another person again. Harry beamed with the possibility of such a fantasy's realisation, of a world without Basilisks and war and death. A world with Tom Riddle, happy and whole - the way he should have been from the very beginning.
Come, Voldemort's high voice whispered tenderly across Harry's spirit, resonating with leashed emotion. I will show you the city. The Dark Lord's long, black Grindylow feet propelled them downward still embraced. This place is one of the few surviving examples of early sorcerous civilisations. Have you not wondered of what your teachers speak when they talk of magic old beyond remembrance - the ancient laws of blood and sacrifice which saved your life and granted Lord Voldemort another? Down, down, down, they swam past crumbling towers encrusted with coral as fish darted furtively through the eerie, empty light that seemed to emanate from the ghostly ruins.
Once or twice, Harry thought he caught the unnatural glitter corpse-eyes staring through the windows of the dead city. I use these examples deliberately as they serve as excellent illustrations of the two beliefs that grew up around the use of such power. Some ancients believed that sacrifice should always be voluntary. Black fingers caressed the headless statue of a kneeling man. Others held that such power was more easily obtained by force. Livid eyes turned to the serene, decapitated head lying some distance away. You can imagine which side won.
Harry gently pried himself from the Dark Lord's arms to swim over to the decapitated head. For a moment, he thought he could see his mother's eyes staring up out of its slackened face. Says who? Voluntary sacrifice saved my life. He turned from the eerie, empty gaze of the statue back to Voldemort, brow furrowed in thought. Wouldn't that make it more powerful, if it can overcome sacrifice taken by force?
You mistake me, Harry. What you surmise is quite correct. The oldest of magics... willing sacrifice... theirs became a civilisation which - which embraced death - endlessly casting itself into the beyond. Harry could feel the fearful aversion shivering in Voldemort's thoughts. Then green light and green eyes and he was ghosting, a mere breath from dissolution, through a forest he could not touch. Helpless with loneliness and rage. I should have remembered...
Many weeks ago, such words might have resonated with Harry in a very different way. The thought of embracing death, sacrificing his own life so that his friends might live... it had haunted him since he had first learned about the Horcrux living in his scar. A small part of Harry had been steeling himself for that inevitable moment ever since. But things had changed. His future had changed. Harry could see that now more clearly than ever, looking at this lovely, powerful, broken creature before him. There were still many sacrifices to come in Harry's life - he wasn't so naive as to believe otherwise - but they would serve a different purpose now.
You should have done a lot of things, Harry murmured across the connection. I should have done a lot of things, too. But the world doesn't stop for our mistakes, Tom. The most important thing is that we're able to see them clearly now. That we don't repeat them. And that... we try to find the good that comes out of them.
My name is Lord Voldemort! came the reflexive hiss, but then the Dark Lord's anger softened and webbed fingers pulled Harry close and a flat nose nestled against his forehead, pressing the filmy bubble between them. Our misfortunes have delivered me a gift beyond all imagining. Truly, I shall never cease to wonder... I had thought myself born devoid of those feelings which you now inspire.
In that moment of shared intimacy and pure, overflowing joy, Harry found his thoughts bubbling excitedly over the link before he could stop them: That's because you were - but - but then that means the Horcrux was right! It's really not hopeless after all - you really can -
He clamped down suddenly on his thoughts when he saw the shock flicker across Lord Voldemort's snake-like face. What? How can you possibly-?
The Horcrux told me, Harry said quickly, and seized Voldemort's hands. Yesterday, when I was - knocked out... well, he was there, and he told me that your mum, when she fell in love with your father... well, the way you were born... Harry swallowed. She'd given him a Love Potion. It's why you've never been able to - understand. But - but there's love in my blood, you see, because of my mum, and now it's in your blood, too, and that means that maybe... He squeezed the webbed fingers, so strung up with hope and desire that he felt like something might snap inside of him. Maybe you can finally feel it now.
It had always been Lord Voldemort's understanding that Tom Riddle had left Merope Gaunt because she told him she was a witch. He was not ready to absolve his father of blame and it hurt him in places he had long ago thought numb: the unwanted child of an unwanted liaison. The reason he had smelt nothing when Professor Slughorn had shown them Amortentia... that missing piece of himself that Harry called love, but which Voldemort knew was far more significant than mere affection; that peculiar, mammalian understanding - connection - which he had only known with Potter, the boy who anchored him to the world.
He did not know whether the emotions he felt were Harry's or his own. His heart galloped with raw grief for, just as he had always known he was special, so too had he always known that he was alone, born without some vital component which others seemed to so easily intuit, but it seldom troubled him. Had he not been fortunate to escape such a burden? His breathing levelled and he squeezed the boy's hands in return. I do not know, he kept his thoughts away from Harry's bright eyes, perhaps you will teach me?
Vivid frustration burned unexpectedly across the connection. Harry's mouth opened as though to speak, but his words came out only in a stream of incomprehensible bubbles. Take us back, came Harry's thoughts, tinged with anger and urgency. I need to speak to you.
Very well, he supposed he had lost their wager rather thoroughly by now, and therefore saw no reason to continue to show Harry a place which seemed to offer the boy little but unpleasantness. He arced his wand through the water and they disapparated onto the sandy doorstep of the shack. Voldemort immediately let go of Harry's hand, dispelling the Bubble-Head Charm and his own transfiguration, retreating into the cool, dark relief of his old Knockturn Alley rooms. He turned back toward the boy at the noise of the door slamming shut behind him. Harry was soaking wet, his dark hair wild and dripping, his swim trunks clinging to his thighs. The boy's fists were clenched so tightly his skin was stretched white across his knuckles.
When Harry finally spoke, his hoarse voice seemed unnaturally loud, even though it was soft with barely leashed anger.
"I want you to look at me - in the eye - and tell me that you don't feel anything."
Voldemort did not know what to make of this sudden fury, but it thrummed in his blood as it did in Potter's. "I do not know - do you understand? Can you possibly understand what it is to be intimately confronted with what has been anathema your entire existence?" He stared into those emerald eyes, easily matching and surpassing Harry's fury. "I feel everything - you wash upon me like a tidal wave - and I cannot comprehend half of what such a flood evokes!"
"That's not good enough!" Potter shouted at him. "God damnit, Tom! Look at me, and tell me how you feel! Tell me honestly that you felt nothing every single time we'd been torn apart - tell me that you didn't lie awake for hours and hours the way I did once you'd woken up, trying to remember every single little detail so that you wouldn't forget even the tiniest thing that had happened between us! I can't tell you exactly when it happened - when I realised that I was going bloody crazy just thinking about your... your mouth, and your eyelids, and your damn fingers - about how your lips twitch at the edges when you find something amusing, and you don't want me to know... about how your hands shake when I'm kissing you... I'm not sure when it happened, but it did, it's over with, and I know that I can't be the only one who feels like this! I've seen the way you look at me! I've felt the things you're feeling when you're staring at me, when you're touching me - and it's not because I'm your Horcrux, and it's not because my feelings are bloody - washing all over yours! Look at me, and tell me you don't love me!"
And despite his resolution to shield the boy from his convictions, despite his wish to harbour such beauty with deceit, Voldemort simply could not stand there and not say it. "I do not-" he tried, summoning all his disdain, "I-" But his lipless mouth was stuck shut. It would not say the words. He attempted it again, hissing in frustration, but it came out mangled by feeling. He raged against it, this dependence - this terror - until finally it burst from him "I DO NOT LOVE YOU!" but so demonstrably false, so cruelly lacking in anything but denial; the yell of a fearful, recalcitrant child who could not bear to admit that this creature, who had wormed his way so far into his heart, was right.
Potter seized his robes, eyes bright with furious tears. "So the only reason I'm here... the only reason you're doing any of this - is because I'm... because you're..." His voice broke, and his upper lip curled in a snarl. Harry yanked him forward so that their faces were only inches apart; Voldemort could not escape from that blazing green stare which seemed to pierce his very soul. "Say it again."
"I am..." He could not. "I..." He could not. He hissed and spat poison, but no more would come. There was no relief from that fierce stare, that rush of raw power that burned his forked tongue into silence. Nowhere to hide his fear that Harry would abandon him, would tire of his company and beg to leave, would despise him for his unthinking cruelty and hate him for his madness. That his deepest desire was not omnipotence, but to awaken from every dream coiled in Harry's embrace. He felt sick with the weight of it all, nauseous with the dizzying, awful truth.
A hysterical, broken sound bubbled past Harry's lips. It was several moments before Voldemort realised that it was a laugh. "After everything I've done... after I abandoned everything to leave with you... after everything... you really think..." That astonished, dazed smile was still on his lips. Then warm hands slid up Voldemort's jaw, and Harry's mouth was pressed against his, his tongue like honey and salt in the Dark Lord's mouth. And then Harry released him. "You've put me through hell, and I still came. You tortured me - you... you killed people I care about very deeply... and I still left everything so that I could be with you! And if you think there's anything you could possibly do that would still surprise me - as unlikely as that is - I would still be here. Because... because I love you. I do. You're utterly impossible, and I still love you, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it."
It could not be true, it could not. Yet he saw nothing but truth looking out at him from within Harry's mind. I love you. And Lord Voldemort, who had poured scorn on such sentiment all his life, was flawed by the faith of this dear creature, whose skin held his most precious treasure. Voldemort could not give Harry the same emotion that shone from those weeping emerald eyes, but neither could he deny the effect of the boy's speech. Eternal, unalterable devotion ... that was what the Dark Lord demanded of his followers and what so very few of them gave, though their many professions of loyalty had offered him no falsehood. He would never allow himself to make such a mistake again.
"If this body were destroyed, you would search for me," he murmured carefully ... precisely ... his softly whispered words deadly ultimata. "You would do all that was necessary to restore Lord Voldemort, regardless of consequence?"
"You wouldn't get that far!" Harry replied fiercely, green eyes burning up at him. "I would never let anyone - how could you think that I would ever let you -" The small fingers wrapped around his arms were almost painfully tight; the boy could not even bring himself to say the words. "And even if you did... even if - somehow, some way, that actually happened... do you honestly think I could live with myself, knowing you were - out there, like that? Suffering? After I've been in your head - after I've seen what it was like for you? It wouldn't matter if you'd been the biggest git in the world before it happened... I... I wouldn't last a day..."
Voldemort gave a long shivering exhale that released something ancient and unnameable from the recesses of his soul. He finally saw why Dumbledore venerated this love ... if that was truly what it was ... the way it flowed from his mind down through his sinews like the tingling warmth of casting an Unforgivable Curse. His precious Horcrux, his brave, irrepressible Gryffindor. Tears were running down his flat face ... doubtless due to the boy's emotions ... and he embraced Harry, giddy with eagerness and heedless of all but his soul's most beautiful vessel. "You shall want for nothing!" he hissed, a fierce susurrus of Parseltongue, "Lord Voldemort shall spread the world at the feet of his... his beloved." His heart smarted with something achingly new and raw with promise. "Everything you desire..."
For the first time, Harry found it was he who was overwhelmed by Voldemort's happiness. Tom's emotion filled his soul as ocean water permeates sand. It was as wild and uncontrollable as the very worst of Voldemort's rages, but instead of weighing him down, Harry felt as though he were soaring, soaring on the highest cloud...
Frantically, he searched for any trace of the artifice he had sensed there earlier in the lagoon. If Voldemort was still lying... if he was keeping anything else from him...
But there was nothing. Harry felt a dark, unexpected rush of power. He was suddenly certain that this man, the most powerful sorcerer of centuries past, would truly move mountains and waste cities for him. And for one long, terrible moment, Harry was just as certain that he would do the same - that he would sacrifice any number of things for this wonderful, fragile thing Voldemort was offering him. Harry, who was forever aware of the thousands of lives hanging over his head, thought in that moment that he might truly be able to forget about them all for the sake of this broken creature baring his heart just for him, for Harry.
But maybe... maybe that wouldn't be necessary. That same sense of power grew darker and more alluring as the possibility of it all unfurled before him. Lord Voldemort shall spread the world at the feet of his... his beloved. How much would Voldemort truly do for him? And - infinitely more terrifying - how much would Harry do for Lord Voldemort? Was this what love was - this willingness to sacrifice everything that was dear to him if it would make Tom tremble and smile this way?
"So you'll... really stay here, then, with me?" Harry dared, holding the long, pale face in his hands; the Dark Lord's tears leaking between his fingers. "You'll truly stop the war?"
Would he, Lord Voldemort, give up all that was within his grasp for this boy? The Basilisk's silvery whisper rang in Harry's ears, joined by the other voices, whose vicious murmurs had always stoked Voldemort's fear and megalomania. The Dark Lord bit his thin lip, blank, crimson eyes utterly deranged, and Harry was sure he was going to do something terrible. But then Voldemort nodded, his breath shivering against Harry's fingers. He hissed, as though in pain, and his tall body contorted: fingers twitched, shoulders hunched, limbs tightened. "If... if that is what you wish."
"I wish for us to be happy," said Harry quietly, pleadingly. "You don't need to kill people to be happy... haven't I shown you that? We can just be happy - like this. Together. Can't we?"
"I have told you, I..." Voldemort paused, soft words trailing off into silence. Then his lipless mouth curled slowly into an equally soft, strange smile. "What did you feel, Harry, when you first played Quidditch?"
Harry might have laughed if he weren't suddenly feeling so miserable. "I don't think that's quite the same thing. Quidditch doesn't kill people."
"It has, on occasion."
Harry glared at him. "Tom."
The red eyes glared back. "I shall not make promises I cannot keep! Is it not enough that I, the Heir of Slytherin, would abandon my ambition for your sake? Is it not enough? Must you demand everything and leave me without even my name?"
"You aren't the only one who's making sacrifices!" Harry shot back, temper rising, because for just a few, tantalising moments Harry had been so sure... there had been hope... He withdrew, scowling. "I'm walking away from everything I've ever known for you! But you're telling me you can't do the same for me, even when - even when you just said... Can't you understand why that's upsetting?"
"I did not lie!" Voldemort shrieked, flinching back as though scalded. "I am in thrall to you, Harry Potter, you render so many of my desires empty shadows of their former significance... but I cannot alter my very nature at your convenience!"
"It's not about convenience!" Harry yelled. "Did you forget already how many people you've killed? People that I care about? This happens to be really important to me!"
He turned away suddenly, breathing harshly. He was beginning to get the urge to grab the nearest piece of hexed detritus and smash it against the wall, and he knew from Hermione that this was about the time for him to start counting to ten.
A pale hand touched his arm. Voldemort was shaking his head, the livid eyes empty. His high, chilly voice was infinitely gentle. Almost sad. "I do not know what you imagine me to be, dear one, but I am glad of it."
Harry breathed out angrily through his nose. "I know what you can be. You said you'd let me help you get there... but you've got to listen to me first!"
Long fingers seized one of the jars above Harry's head and for a second he thought Voldemort was going to smash it, but instead the Dark Lord took out what looked like a marinated rodent and placed it on the bench. With an elegant gesture, the mouse moved its head and its swollen body twitched like an Inferius. Then Voldemort's right hand came down with a loud smack, flattening the reanimated creature and splattering them both with brine.
"What the hell-?!" Harry leapt backward. In a moment of silent shock, he peeled some slimy mouse innards off his glasses, stomach turning. So that's how Voldemort wanted to play? Scowling, Harry whirled around and scanned the items on the shelf, grabbed a suitably expensive-looking jar, and hurled it across the room. It exploded against the wall, bezoars bouncing in every direction. "IS THIS HOW WE LISTEN, THEN?"
"IT'S MORE EFFECTIVE THAN YOUR FOOLISH MUDBLOOD'S SYSTEM OF COUNTING TO TEN!" Voldemort raged as another of the jars exploded.
Harry saw red. "DON'T TALK ABOUT HERMIONE LIKE THAT!" Roaring, he charged forward, grabbing Voldemort by the robes and knocking him against a wall. An entire shelf of books came crashing to the ground; one of them began to emit an eerie high-pitched wail.
"I SHALL SPEAK OF HER IN ANY WAY I WISH!" Voldemort screamed back at him.
"NO - YOU - WON'T!" Harry shouted, pounding Voldemort's robes with every word, his face bright red with anger.
Suddenly Harry was flying across the room on a wave of furious magic, ending up a sore, sprawling heap of angry wizard in the bedroom doorway. "I AM LORD VOLDEMORT AND YOU WILL BE SILENT!" And Harry was still yelling right back at him that no, he would bloody well not, but nothing was coming out of his mouth. And then, behind him, he heard the sound of something slithering across the floor, as enraged as Voldemort, and coming for him.
"You see, human? Master always lets Nagini rip them, lets Nagini eat them in the end... yes, yes..."
"No!" There was a crack and Voldemort was between him and the psychotic snake - not that there was much difference between them right now - and it took Harry a moment to register that the Dark Lord was now hissing murderously at Nagini instead of him.
Well, that was more than enough for Harry. Red-faced and furious - and still, to his infinite frustration, unable to speak - he sprang to his feet and flew out the front door. It slammed behind him so loudly that he was sure he heard another jar fall and break behind him.
It was only when Lord Voldemort had finished with Nagini, who had slithered under the bed in a fit of pique, that he realised Harry had gone. His first impulse was panic: one of his Horcruxes was missing ... he knew not where ... but then he realised that Potter was in no position to escape the confines of the atoll. The boy had little to no knowledge of long-distance apparition and the nearest island was many miles away by broomstick. Only if Harry had not returned by nightfall, would the Dark Lord search for him.
He took in the chaos his once orderly rooms had been reduced to and felt an unexpected pang of nostalgia. This place had incubated so much learning; had witnessed the end of his youth and his growth as an adult sorcerer. Books, ingredients, jars, and alchemical components were strewn mangled and broken across the floor: his genesis in pieces. His tongue itched and he swallowed against a dry throat. If he did not clean up this mess, many of the substances would stain, or mix to adverse effect. One of his grimoires was still wailing.
Only limited magic could be used when dealing with so many potent reagents and magical objects in their own right, and thus the majority of the mess would have to be dealt with by hand, but it did not trouble Lord Voldemort. Such an exercise would give him time to reflect upon the circumstances in which he now found himself.
His notes on the ophiolatry traditions of Parselmouths in Burkina Faso had been ruined ... the parchment soggy with oddly flammable, foul-smelling marinating fluid, but everything else was mostly salvageable. It was strange in ways he had not before considered, to be so intimate with the words and thoughts of the young wizard he had once been. He read half an essay he had written on the creation of Inferi and skimmed through his first, rudimentary ideas for a charm that enabled true flight.
Silvery fluid dripped from an upper shelf onto the bench below and Voldemort ran a pale finger through the unicorn blood pooling on the countertop. So much separated him from the wizard whose sanctuary this had been. Too much had been lost for too long. And Voldemort realised that a great part of him was still trapped in an Albanian forest. All the energy this brilliant young sorcerer had devoted to exploration and knowledge had become lost in the necessity to reclaim what had been ripped from him. And, in the process, Voldemort had become something stagnant in action and thought.
This repugnant notion disturbed him greatly and, in the wake of his recalcitrant Horcrux, caused him ... for the first time since he lost his powers so many years ago ... to truly consider his desires. Did he want to return to what he had been at the height of what was now being called the First Wizarding War? Our dreams are simple, our connection is simple... ruling the world isn't simple. So much of what had pleased him then he now found repulsive. The Death Eaters who had worshipped his genius had betrayed him and those faithful few who had not denied their allegiance had foolishly allowed themselves to be captured by the Ministry.
He had imagined, once, that conquest would fill the void which had always existed within him. Then the bitterness of such eviscerating defeat as had been inflicted upon him removed all else but the compulsion to return and win. There had been nothing else. Voldemort vanished the remains of the dead mouse from his fingernails. I am Lord Voldemort. His mantra, his promise to himself the he could not ... would not ... be defeated; that any obstacle he faced could be overcome by sheer force of will. What had once been a testament of his capacity to endure had now become an ossifying crutch ... the desperate coping mechanism of a mind that could not bear to admit defeat ... for that would mean falling short of the ideal he had forged for himself; yet it had caused the ruin of his imagination, which had been so cruelly curtailed by that torturous, formless existence.
Life was not simply a course to be plotted. It was a constant metamorphosis of mind, body, and soul ... governed by luck and chance. Not even the most accomplished seer or strategist could predict the consequences of even the most minor actions. In such a world, those who were static ... who refused to adapt to circumstances ... would not survive; such were the laws of nature. And, in a choice between his ambitions and his Horcruxes, there was simply no contest. Once he ceased to be limited by the need to reclaim his old life, to be once more the implacable He-Who-Must-Be-Named, it was apparent that Harry had brought him far more joy than his short reign over Wizarding Britain ever had. The boy had shown him things he could never have imagined possible.
He could not be all of what Harry wanted him to become, but Voldemort could at least cease to cling to what he had been. And if the boy had truly meant what he had said, then he would surely not draw undue issue with Voldemort's murderous impulses and fascination with Dark magic, as long as he left Potter's friends in peace.
Armed with such realisations, Lord Voldemort left his once-more pristine rooms and stepped out into the night seeking his errant Horcrux.
The southern firmament glittered above the Dark Lord as he glided along the beach, white skin and white sand almost blue in the moonlight. The sweep and lap of the sea soothed Voldemort's nerves as he walked at the edge of the surf, pale toes sinking into wet sand to be washed by the sea, his black robes furling and unfurling behind him like a streaming banners in the salty breeze.
Potter was standing some distance away, staring out at the ocean. Voldemort did not hurry toward him, but set himself a leisurely pace, taking in the cool, sea air. He had waited all afternoon and into the evening. A few minutes more would make little difference.
In a rustle of wind-curled silk, the Dark Lord finally moved to stand beside Harry. He did not speak. Rather, he slid the tip of a finger down the back of Harry's neck, sliding a bead of pleasure between them. He would not apologise.
Harry's anger had long since left him, carried away with the breeze and the retreating tide. He had been content to lose himself in the sharp scent of ocean water, the gentle wind carding through his hair and washing over his face. He was not sure how long he had been standing there.
He felt Voldemort before he heard him, a black, familiar aura rolling silently across the beach. Harry's bare skin prickled in the night air, and he drew a long breath, tasting the salt on his tongue. He did not open his eyes as he sensed Voldemort settling beside him, full of dark and silent power.
A cool touch against the back of his neck; goose flesh rippled across his skin from the point of contact outward. Harry still did not open his eyes. "Did I... break anything?"
"Nothing significant," Voldemort said lightly, his high, soft voice almost lost in the hiss of the sea.
The smallest of smiles tugged at Harry's mouth. "Damn. I suppose I'm out of practice."
"Ah, well. I am certain there will be many such opportunities in the future." Voldemort sounded almost amused.
"Not if your snake eats me first."
"Nagini is stubborn, but she obeys my wishes," there was an implied unlike you in Voldemort's chilly tone.
Harry opened his eyes. The sea was black and endless before him, stretching out in every direction. He processed for the first time that the sun had set. "Must be nice, to have someone thinking about those."
"It was, once, but the novelty wears off after half a century..." The crimson eyes gleamed in the darkness.
If only the novelty of enslaving Britain's Muggle population might also wear off eventually. Harry exhaled sharply, staring hard at the indistinguishable line where sea and sky embraced one another. There was a long moment of silence, and then - "Look, I shouldn't have shouted at you," he forced out, before Voldemort had a chance to change Harry's mind.
"Thank you," Voldemort replied courteously and then ruined it with "I am glad you recognise your error."
Harry finally turned to look at him, incredulous. "And?"
He could just make out the lipless mouth twitching. "Well, it was abysmal behaviour on your part. I have seen hinkypunks do better. You really are out of practice. Anyone would think you were enjoying yourself."
Harry just barely caught himself before he started smiling. Barely. "This is usually the part where, you know, the other person apologises too."
"Is it?" Voldemort's voice was thick with innocent astonishment.
"Well, if you'd rather, I s'pose I could show you the right way to destroy someone's rooms first."
The Dark Lord stared down at him haughtily. "I hardly think that, of the two of us, you are the authority on violence."
"No, but I reckon I'm pretty good at getting under your skin." A small smile broke through after all.
"True..." Voldemort hissed out what sounded like a sigh of resignation. But just when Harry thought the Dark Lord might actually offer some meaningful comment on what had happened between them today, he suddenly added "Although technically, dear Harry, as I have possessed you a number of times-"
Harry grabbed the front of Voldemort's robes before he could go any further and kissed him harshly on the mouth. He had only intended to shut Voldemort up - impossible bloody git - but the starved connection sparked and soothed between them, gradually eroding what bitterness remained from their argument. Harry's irritation reluctantly slipped away as the kiss became tender, his arms slinking around the long, pale neck.
The apology was in Voldemort's mouth and tongue; gentle and solicitous, and so far removed from the Dark Lord who had shrieked and raged. There was a quietude to Voldemort's aura, an acceptance that Harry had never felt before. Kisses and thoughts mingled in the darkness and Voldemort let out a long hiss of pleasure that sent tingles right down Harry's spine.
He felt an unexpected wave of relief. This was something familiar, Voldemort's scent cold and crisp in his lungs, the shape and pressure of his mouth moving so slowly against Harry's own. This was an expression of affection - of love - that they had mastered long ago, even if they hadn't realised it then for what it was. Harry remembered the warmth that had gathered at his fingertips as they had lain, in awe of each other, on a floor full of glass - the fluttering in his chest as he'd held a tiny, wheezing Voldemort to his heart, stroking a trembling, miniature hand... things were so much simpler between them when Voldemort didn't open his mouth and ruin everything.
But they had spoken today, hadn't they? And Voldemort... Voldemort hadn't simply raged at him the entire time. His beloved. Harry's chest ached with something so sweet it was almost painful. He hadn't quite been able to bring himself to believe it this morning, especially with the shouting match that had followed... but here under the night sky, with Voldemort's slow kisses coaxing his anger from his heart, the ocean vast and unending before them, the reality of Tom's declaration finally began to settle within him. Anything seemed possible.
"Tell me again." The request was carried more on thought than speech, so softly was it murmured against Voldemort's lips.
"I love you," Voldemort whispered back, his high voice airy, as though the three words were of no consequence to either of them - tossed lightly away on the wind - as though they did not change everything.
When, in his third year, Professor Lupin had asked Harry to find a happy memory to produce his Patronus, Harry had tried to recall the most exciting things that had ever happened to him. Winning Gryffindor the House Championship... the first time he had ever flown... But Harry hadn't known then that happiness could also be found in something so quiet and simple as this - that it didn't have to gallop out of him in adrenaline-fuelled exhilaration. That it could be this slow and shivering warmth spreading through his body, filling him up with light. He had never been one to appreciate the little moments, the way Hermione could - he was always rushing headfirst into his next adventure.
Yet he could say with confidence that he had never loved anything so fiercely as he did in the silence, the perfect stillness of that moment.
"Do you remember... when you said I must want to be bound to anyone else in the world but you?" Harry asked him quietly. "Well, you were wrong. I'm glad it was you."
The cool, silken skin of Lord Voldemort's palm brushed against Harry's cheek. "I too, am glad..." Voldemort hissed softly. "It is extraordinary, this..." the word tapered off and the tips of the Dark Lord's tongue nestled in the curve of Harry's ear.
Harry exhaled unsteadily, his head rolling unconsciously on his shoulders. The cool sea breeze kissed his bared throat. "I thought at first it was just because we're - connected... but it's more than that... because even if we weren't, you'd still be able to make me feel like... like this..."
He was enfolded in silk that smelt of salt, musk, spice, and the peculiarly dark, smoky scent that was all Voldemort's own. "Yes..." the hiss caressed him possessively as Voldemort's flat face pressed into Harry's messy hair. "Mine, mine, mine..."
And Harry, for once, did not feel the need to object. He no longer felt as though Voldemort were trying to take something from him; Harry was instead giving him some small and secret part of himself in exchange for this incredible thing they'd discovered together. "Yours," he echoed softly in Parseltongue, and something, some heavy, nameless weight lifted from his body as he did so. He felt physically lighter as he leaned into Voldemort's embrace, breathing deeply against the light, silken robes. "But that means you're mine as well," he added with a touch of obstinacy, grinning softly into Voldemort's shoulder.
"Of course," came the velvety smooth voice, "if you will have me."
Harry raised his eyes to meet Voldemort's, playfulness forgotten. The Dark Lord's burning gaze seemed to glow almost purple in the moonlight. "All of you," he promised softly, and he sensed that something strange and powerful was happening with his magic - a stirring in the centre of his being, somewhere near the glowing Horcrux which was wrapped in the swathes of Harry's own spirit. "I already swore I'd take care of your soul, didn't I?"
"You are my soul," Voldemort answered gravely, fingers trailing worshipfully down Harry's naked torso. Harry shivered as the ocean flung a wave further up the shore, cool water washing over their bare feet. That wonderful warmth Harry had experienced before - I love you - rushed through him again tenfold, so much so that he was physically dizzy with it.
Slowly, leisurely, his body arched beneath the long, beautiful hands sliding across his skin. His spine was a locked bow, muscles tense and quivering as he leaned into Voldemort's fleeting touches. The salty air shuddered in Harry's lungs, and green eyes glanced up, dark and dilated. "Then... then you can have me, too."
"It seems we are in agreement," the Dark Lord - Tom - chuckled. Not the Dark Lord. There was nothing dark, nothing sinister in that soft, inviting sound. Nor in the lovely mouth that followed the trail of sensation left by Voldemort's hands down, down Harry's skin.
Harry trembled and gasped, fingers curling around Voldemort's shoulders. "For once," he said with a smile that quickly slackened in a hitch of breath. The twin tips of Voldemort's tongue drew parallel lines across his soft stomach, chasing butterflies beneath the skin. Harry wondered briefly how he could have ever found Voldemort monstrous, how he had ever seen him as anything but lovely - how did people even settle for tongues with only one point, anyway? - and then his toes were digging into the damp sand as one of Voldemort's arms slid around his waist, pulling him forward so that his navel met the eager, lipless mouth.
Harry was so distracted by this development that he nearly didn't notice when long fingers started creeping up his thigh. It wasn't until they brushed, teasing, against his swim trunks that - in an extraordinary display of resolve - Harry forced himself to pull away. "Wait," he hissed, yanking on Tom's shoulders - perhaps a bit too harshly, but he couldn't help it; his entire body felt strung tight enough to snap at any moment.
There was a frustrated hiss and Voldemort let go of him, leaving nothing but air between Harry and the sand. He flailed, trying to regain his balance, and then fell on his arse with a thump.
He bit back an expression of displeasure - easy, Potter - and pushed himself into a sitting position. Voldemort towered over him, the darkness shrouding his face, and Harry found, with a sudden and inexplicable burst of nerves, that he wished he could see what he looked like. Steeling himself, he rose to his knees, not quite touching Voldemort's body, simply hovering there with his face upturned to the moonlight. His voice was rough and unfamiliar with desire. "I would... very much like to touch you, if you'll let me."
Strangely, he heard the two words a second before Voldemort said them. "You may," came the answer; it couldn't have been more different from the haughty tones of command he remembered. Harry, who had mostly been expecting a refusal, rocked backward for a moment, stunned. He wished more than ever that he could have seen Voldemort's face in that moment. Would his eyes be narrowed at Harry with the same distrust and discomfort that had torn him away at Rookwood's house... or was he finally at ease? Well, if he wasn't, Harry vowed that he'd help him get there.
"Thank you," he breathed, both an expression of gratitude and a promise. Slowly, as though handling an easily startled animal, he reached out, took hold of one thin, skeletal wrist, and brought it forward. His warm lips brushed tender, fluttering kisses across each knuckle.
Harry Potter was seated at his feet, lips drawing slowly across Voldemort's hand, as though in homage. The Dark Lord might have laughed had not each tender caress stolen his breath anew. The incoming tide surged over his bare feet and caught the hem of his robes. In the darkness, with his senses open to sensation, Voldemort was in his element. The crash of the ocean and the rustling of the palms mingled with the saline scents of seaweed and desiccated coral; Harry's kisses fused with the softly chirping insects and the vast, distant glitter of the stars.
The soft lips lingered for a moment at the very termination of Voldemort's long digits: a small, warm tongue pressing against the pad of his forefinger in an open-mouthed kiss. Then they fell away, carrying with them a serpentine sigh, as Harry pulled himself to his feet. Voldemort saw, in the sharp light of the waxing moon, that the boy's naked chest was still flushed and belling with the effects of his own ministrations.
Calloused hands grasped the Dark Lord's face. Harry pulled Voldemort forward until those dear lips grazed just against his mouth, slowly brushing back and forth with every slight movement Harry made. The tip of the boy's nose touched the edges his quivering nostrils. "Thank you," the fond, grateful whisper came again. And then those hands began to move, dragging slowly, reverently across his eyelids, his ears, his chin, his scalp, his mouth - as though starved for the feel of his flesh, setting his nerve-endings and the Horcrux between them alight with longing. They touched Voldemort's trembling throat, pressing gently against the febrile throb of his pulse. The boy swallowed, his pupils visibly dilate, the green eyes blazing in the dark as they silently implored Lord Voldemort for leave to continue.
Wet silk stuck to his legs and he shivered, arching his neck into that caress, utterly careless of his damp robes. Hot breath shuddered against his throat, followed by lips osculating a slow path up to the lobe of Voldemort's ear. Hands ran across his jutting ribs thence to fist dark cloth with a growing impatience echoed beneath the Dark Lord's skin. A raw voice growled in his ear: "Perhaps we could... get rid of these?"
"Ah... of course..." Voldemort hissed, bending over to pull the garment off over his head. The wind licked at his nakedness, but some unknown, interior heat was burning beneath his cold skin, allaying his nerves. He drew away from the boy and the waves, and laid his robes out carefully across the sand. Shorn of silk, the Dark Lord was a tall, thin string of giddy mooncalf, the pallor of him luminous. The livid, crimson eyes glowed like those of a tiger as he turned back towards Harry and looked into that emerald gaze and saw himself.
And he was Harry, and he could not tear his eyes away from marble skin softened by the darkness, so pale it seemed to radiate moonlight. Beautiful - there was no other word for it. So far removed from humanity that it moved beyond beauty. His - Harry's - fingers twitched with the need to touch this creature, everywhere, to gather every place that made him hiss and gasp until every inch of that lovely, sand-white skin was buzzing with helpless desire; his need was Voldemort's need, his lust was Voldemort's lust.
He forced himself to swallow - to breathe - to not launch himself across the beach so quickly that Voldemort would slap him away and seize control of the situation again. This was a precious gift, and he was not going to screw this up.
"Just to be clear," he said slowly, in a warm, low voice that was not his own, his mouth dry with lust, "When I said that I wanted to touch you, I meant that I'd like to touch you... everywhere. The way you've touched me." The image of himself, thin limbs sprawled across black silk, writhing and hissing beneath Harry's hands and mouth, engulfed Voldemort like Fiendfyre. He squirmed, forcing the boy's thoughts away, simultaneously embarrassed and aroused by their detail. "You're sure that that's - all right?"
"I..." How astonishing it was to have mere thoughts caress his body, to sigh as phantom pleasures were painted across his flesh by Harry's eyes. To be subject and object at once, debauched by imagination.
Confusion suddenly tinged the pleasure thick in the night air. The boy's teeth dug into his bottom lip, his hands stiff and unnatural at his sides - clearly restraining himself. "But if it makes you uncomfortable..."
"Hardly." He sat down on his robes, stretching out his long legs. "It is merely that I... that I..." How utterly astonishing and frustrating it was to be embodied, to have limbs that quivered uncontrollably at the behest of so little!
Harry moved toward him, a stark, slender silhouette against the moonlit sea. The air seemed to shift and spark between them as the boy slowly, slowly knelt, knees carefully astride him without brushing against his skin. Yet although they did not touch, Voldemort could feel the near-feverish heat emanating from Harry's flushed flesh as the young man sat, suspended just above him. A barely imperceptible tremble ran through those fingers as they stroked, feather-light, down the Dark Lord's neck once more, halting where Voldemort's robes had previously concealed his protruding collar bone. "That you... what?"
"Everywhere..." the Dark Lord murmured in broken, delirious Parseltongue, "Everything... you shall..." He kept his dignity, refusing to curve upward into that heat, eventually resorting to: "I command you...!" To his immense shame, it bore more resemblance to a supplication than an order.
Through the darkness, Voldemort's eyes could make out Harry's mouth slowly curling into a smile. "You command me? I don't think it quite works that way..." Warm fingers scraped up his abdomen as the boy leaned into him, still not quite touching, and the end of Harry's nose teased at his ear. "You're supposed to ask me nicely."
His whole body twitched, straining against his will. "I have seen your thoughts, Harry... do not dare make this a game of prevarication!"
Soft laughter rolled over his ear in a rush of hot air. "Hmm... that didn't sound very nice to me." The boy began to kiss his neck, slowly, his hands settling on Voldemort's own so that he was leaning completely over him; lovely, naked flesh so near that the Dark Lord would need only arch his spine to bring them into contact. The bare inch of space between them seemed to tremble and shudder with heat. "You can do better than that, I think," Harry's low voice murmured, vibrating against his throat.
Voldemort wanted to thrash this insolent boy. How dare Potter play such a game with him! It was not to be tolerated ... Lord Voldemort would not allow himself to be mocked in such a way. But that would require movement, which would mean that Harry might stop... He let out a plaintive hiss, undulating like a restless serpent. "I am not nice," he spat out when it became too much to bear, "I am Lord Voldemort, and you will give up this irreverence or I shall... I shall..." But there was no warning he could offer his Horcrux, no appropriate punishment with which to threaten. Fear flitted across his features at being so helpless, so devoid of threat. You can't have both. There would be no recourse on this path, he realised, love was like splitting one's soul ... it left no room for retreat or remorse. This must be what it was to have a friend ... a companion one could not force into submission ... he wondered how anyone could stand it.
And Harry knew it. The warm lips and tongue left the crook of his neck, and there was no trace of concession on the boy's stubborn features as the green eyes bored into his; indeed, Harry's smile seemed to grow even more sly. "You're making this a lot more difficult than it needs to be..." The infuriating child pressed his scar to Voldemort's forehead, a bone-deep shock of connection searing through his body, and their breath mingled, the taste of Harry's desire thick in his serpentine nostrils. "I could make you feel so nice..."
Nice was an utterly inadequate term for describing how Harry could make him feel; an insipid understatement which could never be equal to the unnamed, untold wonders coursing between himself and Harry. Asking nicely, feeling nice... Lord Voldemort rejected such vocabulary in favour of yanking his wrists out from under Harry's with an inchoate hiss and greedily wrapping himself around his Horcrux, mouth, hands, and feet all moving in frenzied abandon.
Harry, who had been determined to extract at least some kind of request from Lord Voldemort's mouth, was suddenly consumed by the sensation of all that skin pressing closer than close, cold, naked limbs clinging to his body. His will broke; they went surging forward, and he pressed Tom down into the sand with a series of deep, biting kisses, hands swallowing every bit of skin they could get at with a hunger Harry hadn't known he could possess. He rocked his hips forward against Voldemort's with blinding-white perfect pressure that sent spots dancing in front of his eyes, and he gasped and panted against the lipless mouth, the arm supporting his weight nearly giving out.
This, then, was the source of so much sacrifice. This haze of limbs digging, thrashing, giving, taking ... and this time he did not sink into Harry's thoughts, but clung desperately to the slap of flesh, the heave of breath ... the fierce, hedonistic reality of this new metamorphosis he had begun. Long fingers curled knots into wild, black hair and nails drew pink lines up young skin, all the while his mouth found every trembling moment of transformation and claimed them for eternity.
It was too much. Harry forced himself away before he lost himself too soon in the feeling of Voldemort's hips, rubbing, rubbing against the hardest and softest part of him, and raised himself up on his knees. Voldemort objected with a long, keening hiss, which Harry cut off with another kiss. Only then did he finally let himself move down Tom's long body.
"Everywhere, hm?" The thin chest was rapidly rising and falling with shallow breaths, smooth skin stretching tight across sharp and jutting ribs. "I s'pose I can manage that..." Harry closed his eyes as he placed a long kiss over the furiously pounding heart, nuzzled his nose where another man would have a nipple; fingers cupping and stroking the fragile ribcage as they might a delicate baby bird. Voldemort's torso was one long stretch of lovely skin uninterrupted by the markings of other mammals.
Harry's mouth moved lower, lower, down the quivering, concave stomach, restless fingers still trailing across Tom's sides. He didn't think he could be any more aroused - until he finally came up upon Voldemort's long, straining sex. Fresh desire ripped through him like an electric shock. He'd never understood why anyone would ever want to put something like that in their mouth until this very moment, when he wanted to so badly that he was lightheaded and dry-mouthed with it. "I need to - can I - is this -" he babbled, hardly knowing what he was saying, fingers trembling and twitching as they hovered above Voldemort's arousal.
"Yessss..." Voldemort murmured, arching upward towards Harry, and it was yes like Wingardium Leviosa, lifting Harry into the air ... yes like the waves crashing against the sand ... yes like the instinctual hiss of open, which opened everything of Voldemort's to Harry: sinks, doors, emerald-eyed serpents, and legs... awed, he ran a hand affectionately up a beautifully smooth, long, moon-pale thigh.
He had to close his eyes for a moment - breathe - his heart beating so hard and heavy that it seemed to lurch and jump in his chest. Once he'd gotten himself together, Harry reached out slowly, tentatively, and traced his fingers across the entire length of him, the way he knew he himself liked to be touched, starting out. It was smooth and tepid, and seemed to swell impossibly at the brush of his Harry's skin. Encouraged, Harry leaned forward and followed the path of his fingers with the tip of his tongue, hot, unsteady breath washing across Voldemort as Harry exhaled through his nose. He gave a curious, investigative lick at the foreskin.
Voldemort let out a shuddering hiss from behind clenched teeth that seemed to gather hot and low in Harry's stomach. Tom's dark, musky scent seemed to fill up his entire body; he couldn't get enough of it. Harry breathed in deeply, nuzzling against him. He lapped at the head which peeked out from beneath the sleeve of dark foreskin - spurred on by the way Voldemort's hips tensed and jerked, long, white hands clawing restlessly at the sand. Harry's fingers wrapped around hard flesh then and pulled Voldemort into his mouth, trying to lick and suck the way Tom had showed him. His tongue buzzed and curled with Voldemort's pleasure, with the connection that shivered across both their souls.
And Voldemort wanted it - Harry could feel his need burning like hot ice through his scar, could feel the ghost of his own mouth, moving across Tom's skin, the pleasure bleeding from Voldemort's mind into Harry's. Voldemort, who had never been touched by anyone - who had never wanted anyone - was unfolding beneath him, desire and magic and pleasure seeping from his quivering flesh and washing over Harry's body in warm, tingling waves.
He could hear teeth grinding and Tom cried out - and Harry wouldn't be able to bring himself to stop if the ocean swept up and swallowed them both, if the entire world burst suddenly into flames - there was nothing, nothing but the two of them, nothing but the small, desperate noises pulled out of those thin lips and Voldemort's musky scent and the heat and weight of him in Harry's mouth. He opened his eyes, then, to drink in the sight of Lord Voldemort, stretched out across the sand, full of the tension of sex and want - want for Harry -
Look at me, Harry demanded silently, and Tom's eyes cracked open in his pale face - dark and wild, two bright, throbbing nerves exposed to the night air. And Harry groaned, hands suddenly fumbling, because he could feel what Tom was feeling. The rough stroke of his tongue, the sharp scrape of teeth, the heat of his mouth sliding over and over and over again -
Harry's hand slipped down between his legs and he shoved himself clumsily into his own grip, shuddering and moaning and unable to stop, never, ever, ever - wanting Tom to want this - to want him - and, oh god oh god, to pleasure Tom every night, to kiss him and touch him and love him and fuck him, Harry would do it all, would do anything, everything -
And Tom was spilling into his mouth, the shock of it like something hot and perfect ripping inside of him, and Harry released him with a loud, shuddering gasp - "Oh god oh god," he babbled, stroking himself desperately, pressing his forehead hard into Voldemort's hip, "oh yes yes yes Tom yes -"
Afterward, Harry curled up beside him, breathing deep and long into Tom's neck. "Yes," he murmured breathlessly, over and over, "yes," to his belly, "yes," to his bony chin, "yes," as he nuzzled his ear, bare leg draped over Tom's longer ones, while the flesh beneath him lay still and languid.
He pushed himself up on an elbow, after some long, lingering moments, to look at Voldemort's face. He noticed, for the first time, that something was dribbling from the corners of Tom's mouth. Opaque and glistening, it steamed oddly against the white flesh, dripping down to bead poisonously on his collar.
"Are you - all right?" Harry's voice was hoarse and suddenly uncertain.
"Yes, yes... it is nothing..." There was colour in Tom's sharp cheeks, rising blue-purple like a bruise.
"But your mouth - it's... dripping..." Against his better judgement, Harry reached out and dipped his finger in it, but it did not burn or scald his skin; it was simply very hot to the touch.
"It is a legacy of my rebirth, nothing more," Voldemort sighed and Harry saw that his mouth, his canines were glistening with the same, strange substance, opaque like venom and glistening in the moonlight like unicorn's blood... oh...
Voldemort did not stop him as Harry gathered the venom in his fingertips and brought them to his mouth, sucking them clean. It burned his tongue like tea drunk too soon, musk and molten metal - blood. Tom looked away, red eyes gleaming out at the dark ocean. "Venom, flesh, blood, and bone... a body crafted and sustained in such a way will always be bound by the nature of its ingredients."
It suddenly occurred to him that Voldemort was embarrassed. Without thinking, Harry leaned forward and kissed him hard on the mouth. His tongue lapped at the edges of his thin lips, licking away the poison. He continued to fondle Tom as they kissed, long, slow strokes that made Harry's stomach flutter, and more venom suddenly leaked onto his tongue, hot and acidic. "That's..." Harry stopped kissing him for a moment, tasting the poison in his mouth, hand stilling over Voldemort's sex. "That's... really bloody hot. Wow."
"You... you do not mind?"
"Mind?" Harry stared at him. "Of course I don't mind!" A look of confusion came over his flushed face. "But I don't think you did that last time that we... y'know... did you?"
"No... I did not lose control in such a way." Voldemort's gaunt face was pensive and curiously sad, "Forgive me, even I am surprised, on occasion, by the fact that I am no longer human."
Harry felt a sharp pang of longing. He grasped Voldemort's face in his hands. "If you weren't human, you wouldn't be able to feel, or laugh, or - love. And those are the best parts about being human to begin with." Cold, white fingers brushed across Harry's lips. "I think you're lovely," he murmured in a low voice, kissing the tips of those fingers.
They fell away from his lips to be replaced by the two points of a tongue, which traced carefully the edges of Harry's mouth before twining with his own. And suddenly he was gazing through different eyes. Certain colours drained away to reveal perfect clarity of vision: he could see the hairs standing up on his own arms and, from the corner of his eye, grains of sand shifting as they snogged.
Memories not his own were coursing through him: a handsome, dark haired boy leaning forward, frowning into a mirror, examining heavily bloodshot eyes ... running a hand through his hair and staring at the black and grey strands which clung to his fingers ... frail fingers pushing against the membrane of an egg ... hatching raw, trembling, and euphoric only to be greeted with twitching, shuddering disgust ... being dropped into a boiling stone cauldron, skin bubbling, agony melting into strong, lean fingers which gripped the rim of the cauldron and pulled him up into resurrection as he drew new, startlingly deep, breaths from the steaming air ... masked eyes widening, terrified of the ghoulish, red-eyed fiend who blazed in their weak minds ... he could smell the sick, sweaty stink of their fear and laughed aloud ... how colourless his hand was against the boy's pink, excited face ... and realised that he had forgotten, until now, that his body could be anything other than an instrument of terror. "Brilliant..." he whispered ... allowing himself to be gentled by the warmth that caressed his ear and was now stroking his hairless skull... He hardly knew what to say to such compliments.
His beloved did not find this form strange, did not baulk even at the secretion of venom. "I find you beautiful, dear Harry; it is an impetuous attraction, ever in motion..." Harry murmured lovingly against his own flesh, "ever rushing ahead, heedless of its wake." How he cherished this creature, this essential possession, his first and most precious friend...
Harry watched his eyes flutter open, a dull, muted green in Voldemort's night-vision - and as they did Harry slipped back into his own mind. It was no longer the struggle it used to be, the ruthless battle for his own thoughts - rather, it was something like falling backward and effortlessly through a dark cloud, not unlike what it was to slip between dreaming and awake. But this was no dream, and Voldemort was still here, with him - real and lovely and his. "I dreamt about this, you know," he admitted softly. "Even when you weren't there with me."
How could he express the feverish delirium this boy had caused? The abject, disconsolate fury? He had not lingered, dreaming of this moment, but been driven to the edge of reason by it. Voldemort doubted that Harry would find the acts he had committed, in what had seemed then a permanent state of frustrated rage, romantic. "You, too, were ever in my thoughts."
Harry cringed against him in the darkness, and Voldemort realised too late that, left unguarded, his thoughts had spilt through their connection. "If we could just - y'know - not think about murdering people while we're snogging... that would be great."
He brushed his fingers up against Harry's left temple. "It is difficult," he said softly, "you may be my future, but there is much in my past, and my thoughts, which you will always find repugnant."
"Then we'll simply have to start fresh," Harry told him stubbornly.
"That is all very well for you to say, dear one. You are sixteen. I am no longer a young man. Rather, I am nearing my seventieth year, and though I am resolved to transform myself once more, such changes are neither fast, nor simple."
"You don't need to transform yourself." Harry's fingers slipped down the Dark Lord's thin chest, tracing the ribs that guarded the fluttering heart of this new body. "Everything you need is already here."
He reached out to grasp those fingers, squeezing them possessively, but was unable to speak. Voldemort swallowed, glancing away. Harry was very young and so much of him was still in potentia. He could not see what it was he was asking of Lord Voldemort.
"I know it must be hard - being trapped in the middle of it all," Harry's voice came, hardly above a whisper, thumb stroking Voldemort's hand. Inexplicably, the image of a huge, monstrous snake bled through Harry's thoughts. "But I'm looking in from the outside... and I see things that I don't think you have a clue about."
"I..." Had he truly become so stagnant as to be viewed as trapped? Voldemort had never considered himself as limited by his achievements, rather the opposite. He - who had ventured further than any other down the road that led to immortality - had scorned all obstacles in his path. Could Harry be referring to his mental instability, that cage of fury that encased him so often, or had he too seen what Voldemort had realised in the wake of their argument?
"You don't need to transform anything," Harry said again, softly. "I've seen every bit of you - even the parts you don't want to look at yourself. I've seen your soul, Tom, and it's..." His Horcrux's lips brushed against his own. "It's so much stronger than you think it is."
If it had been anything else, his mental acumen or his powers - so much of himself he had proudly honed to razor edged perfection - Voldemort would have immediately protested that he had no doubt of his strength, but his soul... the last week had shown him its exceptional frailty... its weakness. He had felt it flutter in the breach, so easily overwhelmed. He shook his head against Harry's mouth.
"It is," Harry insisted, cradling his face with his fingers, "it's been strangled and splintered and smothered and it is still so strong... I wish you could see..."
And he could feel it fluttering in his chest, its flame yearning helplessly toward Harry; an aching sliver. It had no power, it owned nothing but quivering sentiment. "How can you find in the weakest part of Lord Voldemort - so easily overridden by a simple touch by your hand - an example of strength?"
"I think it's the strongest part of you," Harry told him fiercely. "Without your soul... well, none of this would mean anything, would it? Everything would be... empty. Why would you want that?"
"Because," he whispered, "such things were always empty... always meaningless... until you."
And Harry's lips were against his, nails scraping down his throat, Harry's heart pounding in his mouth with a rush of longing that Voldemort felt in the soles of his feet. "Don't you feel it?" he said breathlessly against the Dark Lord's thin mouth. "It's the biggest thing I've ever felt. How could you think that it's weak -? It feels so - it feels -" Overwhelming. How could he describe the raw, absolute novelty of what lay beneath their skins? The shock of it that still sent him reeling.
Potter scrambled suddenly to his feet, kicking up sand as he did so. Voldemort's nakedness was abruptly left to the mercy of the cool ocean air. "Quickly," Harry said, "I've got an idea - I can prove it to you -"
The Dark Lord wrapped his arms about himself. He would have Harry continue to embrace him rather than demonstrate whatever had occurred to him. "What?" he asked, almost stirred to annoyance.
"Honestly," the boy said impatiently, "d'you need to make everything so difficult? I'm going to show you." Harry offered Voldemort his hand.
He took it, not because of where it would lead, but simply to clasp those warm fingers as he swayed to his feet against that enticing creature. "Are you complaining of the enjoyment I derive from our shared languor?"
Harry grinned at him in the moonlight. "I'm about to show you something better."
"Better?" Voldemort raised his brows in disbelief, "Now this I must see - lead on, dear one."
"You'll need your wand."
The Dark Lord smiled a predator's smile and summoned his wand of yew, "Oh...?" What magic could Harry possibly demonstrate that he, Lord Voldemort, did not already know? He drew his cloak around his shoulders to offer his nudity some small protection from the breeze as Harry pulled him gently up the beach, until Voldemort's toes sunk into wet sand and the cool shore flirted with their ankles.
The boy leaned back against him, pressing his warm, naked body flush against Voldemort's. Small hands took his wrists and pulled them around Harry's torso. All their movements seemed to have gained a wondrous ease as though, having been so entwined, no gesture either one of them could offer the other could ever be stilted or go unaccepted. Such ease Voldemort had already experienced with Nagini, but this... this was life with all the astonishing intimacy of dreams.
They swayed as one in the ocean breeze, gazing out together on the black sea which glittered with the ghosts of the stars above. After many long moments, Harry rolled his dark head of hair on Voldemort's shoulder, chin tipped up to the sky, to look at him. "Close your eyes."
The crimson eyes glanced suspiciously at his Horcrux before closing obediently. Harry's fingers stroked against his wristbones, his breath soft against Voldemort's bare neck. "Yeah," Harry murmured, "that's great. Now I want you to think about how we got here."
"You wish me to think about apparition?" The Dark Lord asked, taken aback. "Or are you speaking philosophically?"
Fingers pinched his wrist sharply, though Voldemort could feel Harry grinning as clearly as he could feel the water licking his toes, even with his eyes shut. "Don't be a git. I'm talking about us. Standing here together - happy."
"How we got here..." he mused, considering the whirlwind of circumstances that had led them both to this point, from those first sleeping glimpses to their flight from civilisation; standing in a snow-covered street at dawn with Harry covering him in promises and kisses, the pleasures of last night and only a moment ago... Voldemort's toes curled into the wet sand.
"Concentrate on it," Harry's voice came, warm and low against his throat. "Bottle it up. Imagine it very clearly. Are you concentrating?"
He tried to pick out the details: the crisp wind against his face, Harry's breath and hands and voice - the way his insides had tilted like a ship on the waves - the rise of inexplicable feeling as Harry's lips had touched his own - the first kiss Harry had pressed upon him - and the rampant joy that shortened his breaths. It had not merely been the boy's happiness either, he realised. Voldemort's own heart had hurt with the weight of it as those hands had slid around his head, pulling him close for kiss after breathless kiss.
Harry's warm touch, here in the present, brushed against his left wrist, guiding his wand-hand forward. "Repeat after me: Expecto Patronum."
It startled Voldemort out of his reverie, "I cannot," he said, resisting Harry's grip. He had spent half of his seventh year in fruitless efforts to conjure a Patronus and he did not want to embarrass himself in front of Harry. In the end, he had produced merely an illusion to satisfy Professor Kettleburn that he could visit Azkaban for his Care of Magical Creatures project. The old fool hadn't even noticed.
But the boy did not yield. "You can. Whatever you were just thinking about - I could feel it, too. Just concentrate, and say the incantation. Try it."
"I cannot," Voldemort whispered, "it is impossible."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "You can talk to snakes. You came back from the dead. You can fly without a bloody broomstick. I'd say impossible just means you're more likely to do it."
"I... there are other ways to control Dementors and I... I tried... I practised the spell daily for six months..."
"Tom." Harry turned to face him, sliding his hands up his jaw and pressing their foreheads together. "Close your eyes and concentrate."
And he did not even notice the name the boy called him, as he was - in that moment - again Head Boy of Hogwarts desperate to master this one spell that eluded him. Frustrated, he closed his eyes as Harry suggested and murmured "Expecto Patronum." Predictably, nothing happened.
"I can read your mind, you know," Harry said dryly. "You didn't concentrate."
Voldemort hissed and shifted his feet on the uneven sand. He could not bear to fail at such a thing in front of Potter. Summoning once more that wondrous moment in Diagon Alley, Voldemort tried to submerge himself in every detail of the memory before casting the spell. A small wisp of faint, silvery mist issued from his wand, hanging in the air. The Dark Lord sighed as it dissolved.
"Excellent!" Harry beamed at him, "See - you've just got to concentrate a little harder. Think about something happy - really happy - the happiest memory you have... like it's happening right in front of you..."
And he thought of last night, of that beautiful loss of everything but their cherished connection when his Horcrux offered himself mind, body, and soul and Voldemort had matched such generosity with equal fervour: denial, and happiness, and rage, and burning, impossible love - "Expecto Patronum!"
It burst from his wand of yew, a gleaming galloping thing, tossing its wild mane in the wind. It raced around Voldemort excitedly, ran out onto the black, rolling surf and back again, illuminating the beach as though it were made of moonlight. There was little he could do but gaze at it in wondering astonishment, heart pounding as fast as its hooves.
"Your Patronus... it's..." A horse. Harry's mind was reeling, a thousand thoughts flying through his head as he struggled to process what had just happened. How could Lord Voldemort's Patronus be something so... mammalian? But then he remembered last year, during his Dumbledore's Army lessons - how Ginny's Patronus had also been a stallion...
"Oh..." Harry breathed, and he turned and wove his fingers through Tom's, still holding the wand. He didn't even need to search for an adequate memory - he needed only to think of the smile on Tom's face as they'd flown, spinning and soaring, over London, laughter lost to the air as they kissed, hidden in the clouds above the city -
(I love you, Tom had whispered, holding him tight; my beloved, he'd said, tears streaming down his cheeks)
Silver blossomed from Lord Voldemort's wand, but it was not a stag that emerged. Instead, a great, monstrous snake - growing, growing, molten silver on the air that shot outward still - until there was no doubt in Harry's mind of what it was. The Basilisk chased the horse across the water, snapping playfully at its legs, never quite catching up to it, never quite able to ensnare it completely in its coils.
"My stag!" Harry cried, and scowled up at Tom. "You screwed up my bloody Patronus!"
"Well," Voldemort was grinning wickedly at Harry's horrified, furious expression, "I am afraid I shall have to cede victory to you, my beloved. This is definitely more fun."
Authors' Notes: Thank you to all of you for being so patient with us and for reading this to the end. This is the end of 'In Somno Veritas'. There will not be a full sequel, but we are writing something of a Christmas Special for you all to enjoy this holiday season and we have some other Harry/Voldemort stories partially completed as well. Watch this space and thank you again for being such wonderful readers. We love you and we're sorry it took us this long to write the last chapter. Thank you again.
UPDATE: The first several parts of the mini-sequel "Yew and Holly" are now available on our profile.